FANS OF WRITER/DIRECTOR Andrew Haigh know that it's only a matter of time until he catches on big. We True Believers have been waiting very patiently until the rest of you learn his name, dead certain it'll happen—the proof is in 2011's Weekend, a romantic little two-hander about two men whose one-night stand blooms unexpectedly, and Looking, Haigh's terrific HBO series about gay men in San Francisco. (Side note for Portland lit-nerds: Haigh is also slated to direct the film adaptation of Lean on Pete, local author Willy Vlautin's unflinching take on a boy-and-his-horse novel. *eeeeee*)
With 45 Years—which got a best-actress Oscar nod for Charlotte Rampling's performance—Haigh's one step closer to becoming the household name he should be. His work is perceptive and compelling, subtle and sexy. He makes movies for the nosy—for those of us who turn down our headphones to eavesdrop on couples fighting on the bus. His characters roil with insecurities and needs they sometimes haven't even articulated to themselves. The comedy and tragedy comes from watching those impulses work their way to the surface.
In the case of 45 Years, the surfacing is quite literal: On the eve of his 45th wedding celebration, Geoff (Tom Courtenay) finds out that the body of his long-ago lover, who died on a mountaineering trip, has emerged from the glacier where it's been preserved in ice for almost 50 years.
Geoff is clearly agitated by the news, and his wife Kate (Rampling) is agitated by his agitation. Suddenly she's peering in closets, looking through old photo albums, digging for clues to a relationship whose abrupt and violent end paved the way for her own long, happy marriage. She knows she should let the past stay buried, but she can't quite manage it. Periodically, the sound of dripping water reminds us of the melting glacier, of ice-locked secrets slowly coming to light.
Like Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, 45 Years is a story where party prep contains multitudes. Kate is watchful and wary as she drives to the city to pick out a dress, arrange a playlist, and book a venue. The party is meant to celebrate the couple's long and happy wedding; instead, it marks a sea change in a marriage that's long proceeded on a predictable, inexorable (and yes, glacial) course.
Had Charlotte Rampling refrained from offering her opinion on the Oscars boycott ("racist to white people"), we'd all be offering unqualified raves of her performance here. Since she did recently share her antediluvian two cents, here's a qualified rave: It's a tremendous performance from an actress who's apparently kind of an old racist? Courtenay, too, gives a rumpled and lived-in performance as a man torn between the siren song of nostalgia and his real life. By the end of the film, we begin to understand how his wife feels about him, because we feel it too: protective, affectionate, mistrustful, alert to the possibility of change.
45 Years is a great little movie, complex and compelling and brilliantly constructed. If you don't know it already, now would be a great time to learn Andrew Haigh's name.