EIFF 2015: Remarkable, award-winning relationship drama from Andrew Haigh
Writer-director Andrew Haigh follows the masterful Weekend, his achingly romantic tale of young men falling in love, with a look at a relationship unexpectedly plunged into crisis in life's home-stretch. Adapted from David Constantine's short story 'In Another Country', Haigh provides an impeccably judged platform for two astonishingly believable performances.
Set against a typically overcast rural British backdrop – which offers appropriately unshowy foreboding – 45 Years takes place in the run-up to the titular wedding anniversary of Kate and Geoff Mercer (Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay), due to be marked by a lavish celebration. Their happy existence is rocked by the news that the body of Geoff's ex-girlfriend Katya, who was killed in the Swiss Alps 50 years previously, has been found perfectly preserved in ice.
The discovery throws the pair into turmoil: Geoff begins to open up about the relationship and the holiday that ended in tragedy, which at first intrigues and then tortures Kate, who is shown as Geoff's devoted carer. And, worse, he begins to obsess about his lost love, sneaking off to peruse his collection of keepsakes which he's kept secreted away all these years. The ghost of Katya begins to hang over their life together, brilliantly illustrated in a scene where the dead woman's tauntingly youthful, out-of-focus face looms on a makeshift screen as Kate's pin-sharp devastation is conveyed.
In its depiction of a rather unusual later life romantic rival it recalls Sarah Polley's similarly well-judged Away from Her. Leaning heavily on his seasoned, mesmeric performers (who shared the Silver Bear at Berlinale 2015 for their work here) and their ability to wordlessly fill in the gaps, Haigh crafts a credible, unsensational picture of a relationship shaken to its core by information which loosens the foundations upon which it is built. He treads carefully, with the approach feeling intimate yet rarely intrusive, gradually closing in on moments of revelation or delicately capturing complex reactions. Despite the sensitivity, a brutally honest sex scene feels like a suitable, illuminating addition. The unusual premise turns out to be a fruitful way to explore the shadow of exes, and the danger of simply loving someone, in a film that's insightful, haunting and desperately sad.
Screening on Fri 19 and Sun 21 Jun as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2015. General release from Fri 28 Aug.