45 Years

Kate and Geoff Mercer, played by Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay are approaching their 45 year anniversary. They live an idyllic life in the flat countryside around Norwich, England and are outwardly very happy. All that changes when Geoff gets word that the body of his first love, Katia, is found in a Swiss glacier, where she died in a climbing accident before he and Kate ever met. This puts Geoff into a ruminative mood that alarms Kate, shaking her faith in Geoff’s feelings toward her.
I would imagine that the main challenge of this film is explaining why Kate should be threatened by a woman who died over fifty years ago, keeping in mind this is not a ghost story. After all forty five years is a lifetime together and a successful marriage by any standard. The script by Andrew Haigh who also directed, and Charlotte Rampling’s masterful performance sufficiently explain why Kate is upset.
This is a story about the secrets we keep both from friends and from loved ones. Geoff has never talked about the incident where Katia died. The story turns out to have many layers. At one point he admits that the Swiss authorities have him down as Katia’s next of kin because they had pretended to married during their trip so that they could sleep in the same rooms. And it gets worse. Kate asks him point blank if he would have married Katia if she’d lived. He’s honest and admits that he would have.
This causes Kate to become emotionally unmoored. She realizes that because the couple never had children they never really took any pictures to document their lives. The past becomes a blur to her, as if it were a dream and not real.
Charlotte Rampling’s performance is the centerpiece of the film. It is a workshop in understated performance. In almost every scene in the last half of the movie she is behaving properly, keeping up a cool English reserve but you can see her reeling underneath. There’s really no reason for her to be upset and yet you understand why she is.
The film has a stately pace and there are long shots of the English countryside, almost exclusively shot on overcast or rainy days so the whole film has a muted look. People stare into the distance and engage in meaningful silences a lot. There are no emotional fireworks and the climax impacts only Kate. No one else aware of her character arc.
Another secret, I suppose.

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