45 YEARS directed by Andrew Haigh (UK, 2015)
In his meditations on the art of story telling, A Pesca Nelle Pozze Più Profonde (Fishing In The Deepest Pools), the Italian author Paolo Cognetti wrote that a short story is not only a brief narrative but also an incomplete one. By this, he didn’t mean that the tale is unfinished but seeks to draw attention to the fact that what is omitted is often more significant than what is included.
The British film, 45 Years, is based on David Constantine’s ‘In Another Country’. I haven’t yet read this story but I feel sure it follows Cognetti’s parameters.
Brilliantly adapted for the screen by Andrew Haigh, it offers a one week window into the lives of a retired couple as final preparations are made for a party to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary.
Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay are perfectly cast as Kate and Geoff Mercer whose childless marriage in rural Norfolk appears on the surface to be both tranquil and idyllic. Ripples of unease appear, however, when Geoff receives a letter telling him that the perfectly preserved body of a former lover (from before his marriage) has been discovered frozen in Alpine mountains where she fell to her death.
Revelations about the true nature of this relationship which he has kept secret from Kate cause her to re-evaluate her role as a dutiful and supportive wife. There are no blazing rows or bitter confrontations but beneath the respectable veneer an emotional maelstrom quietly builds.
Although it is he that has received this shocking news it is her plight that arouses more sympathy. He may not be guilty of marital infidelity but his lack of transparency still appears as a mild, but not minor, act of betrayal.
As with the best works of Alan Bennett, there are funny-sad moments but also a deep,understated sense of dis-ease. Through looks and glances you begin to imagine that Kate is re-assessing the couple’s long years together. She keeps her feelings to herself but suddenly their comfortable retirement no longer looks quite so cosy. While he seems ready to brush aside his deceptions as mere foolishness, she struggles to forgive and forget.
The Mercers are in their 70s but ageing is only a theme of the movie in that the passing years mean that they have accumulated a greater store of memories. The knock-on effect of this is that it also increases the chances of skeletons in the closet coming back to haunt them.
The poignancy and raw intelligence of this moving drama is intensified by things left unspoken and details left unexplained. This a not a film in which the director feels the need to tie up the loose ends. Real life is never so tidy and there is no such thing as closure.