Monday, December 21, 2015

45 Years: Rampling and Courtenay

It is like Banquo’s ghost appearing forty-five years after Macbeth’s crime, except Geoff Mercer has nothing to feel guilty about. Right? That is exactly the question his wife Kate will wrestle with when word arrives of the discovery of his tragically deceased former girlfriend Katya’s body. The fact the she died before the Mercers even met is a crucial detail. Frankly, all the details are important in 45 Years (trailer here), Andrew Haigh’s rigorous examination of an ostensibly comfortable marriage under sudden stress, which opens this Wednesday in New York at the IFC Center.

The fact that she was named Katya is almost too much. She and Geoff Mercer were quite the item but she got too close to the edge while hiking in the Alps and over she went. After all these years, she has finally been found, perfectly preserved in an ice crevice. Initially, Geoff Mercer tries to shrug with “oh, surely I mentioned her” prevarications, but his distracted manner speaks volumes. Still, Kate tries to allow him a little melancholy nostalgia as she finalizes the plans for their forty-fifth anniversary party. Despite never having children, she always thought they had built something solid and meaningful. Yet, the absence of photos documenting their life together takes on nagging significance, especially since old Geoff still has pictures of Katya.

He does indeed, but audience members should not expect to see them. Shrewdly, Haigh only allows us oblique and obscured glimpses of the eternally young and vivacious Katya. How we see the Mercers seeing her is more important than getting a good gander at the spectral home-wrecker.

Casting 1960s era icons like Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay is almost too on-the-nose, but their considerable chops casts aside any gimmicky casting reservations. Courtenay no longer looks anything like a long distance runner, as we can plainly and shirtlessly see, whereas Rampling is still ramrod straight and naturally elegant. Yet, they still feel like a couple that is well familiar with each other. They are still two of the best in the business, who say more with silence and restraint than someone like a Meryl Streep ever could with all the shtick and histrionics at her disposal. There is just something uncomfortably honest about their performances. Just watching the film feels like an intrusion into a very private drama.

Haigh almost overdoes matters with references to the 1960s, but those clichéd pop songs Kate Mercer choses for the party rather underscore the generic nature of their relationship. They do not really have a song. She just picks something that fits. She and Geoff listen to the popular songs of their day, read the right books according to the right reviews, and hold properly reflexive left wing opinions to mark them as products of their generation, but none of that means anything. That truth and the other doubts it fosters are what makes 45 Years so potent. It is a mature, uncompromising film likely to earn (further) award notice for its two accomplished stars. Recommended for sophisticated palates, 45 Years opens this Wednesday (12/23) at the IFC Center.