45 years review: Amazing grace

  • Rashid Irani, New Delhi, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Mar 05, 2016 16:19 IST
Andrew Haigh directed 45 Years. (YouTube)

45 Years
Cast: Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay
Director: Andrew Haigh
Rating: 5/5

It may not have generated the sort of buzz surrounding this year’s Oscar contenders, but writer-director Andrew Haigh’s third feature (following Greek Pete and Weekend, both of which were ignored by our distributors), is a remarkable achievement by any standard.

Indeed, 45 Years is a rare reminder of the rich rewards that can come from consummately classical craftsmanship.

Sourced from the short story ’In Another Country’ by David Constantine, this low-budget British indie is a deceptively minimal and exacting examination of a seemingly stable marriage that begins to unravel.

An elderly, middle-class couple (Rampling–Courtenay) on the verge of celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary receives a rude jolt when a letter arrives revealing a long-forgotten secret from the husband’s past.

It seems that, more than half a century earlier, his first true love had perished in a tragic accident in the Swiss Alps. The discovery of his former girlfriend’s perfectly preserved body leads the doddering husband to ruminate on ageing and mortality, “She looks as she died in 1962, and I look like this”.

The foundation of their marriage shaken , the couple even begins to wonder how well they really know each other.

As the husband contemplates travelling to Switzerland to retrieve the body, his ever more jealous wife rummages through the attic, where she stumbles upon a shocking discovery. Slowly but surely, events from the past bear unforeseen consequences for them in the present.

Watch: Trailer of 45 Years

Adopting an austere visual style, the director elicits empathy for both the protagonists. At the end of their anniversary celebration, as the camera slowly tracks towards the couple dancing to the strains of ‘Smoke gets in your eyes’ by The Platters, it is evident that the unseen figure from the past will haunt them for the rest of their lives.

Virtually vanishing into the roles of their characters as into a second skin, the two iconic British actors deliver performances of amazing grace.

In other words, 45 Years is unmissable.

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