Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

OSCARS 2016: 45 Years (2015)

The Academy of Motion Picture Art and Sciences loves old people. Usually every award season brings a film about an elderly couple or person, struggling with the ravages of age. In the lead-up to the nominations announcement, it’s rare that this style of film receives much press. More often than not, such a movie scores a surprise nod in the acting categories. “Away from Her” and “Amour” are kind of recent examples. The token old folks film of 2016 is “45 Years.” Despite good reviews, there was little press behind the picture. That is until Charlotte Rampling earned a nomination for Best Actress.

Kate and Geoff have been happily married for forty-five years. Without children, they live a quiet existence on a spacious country home. The weeks leading up to their anniversary party is interrupted when Geoff receives startling news. Fifty years ago, before he even met Kate, a girlfriend of his died in a mountain climbing accident. Now, decades later, the police have recovered her body. Thinking about the life Geoff had before their relationship causes jealousy and insecurity to squirm inside Kate’s mind.

The opening scenes of “45 Years” are comfortable and lived in. Kate walks their dog, preparing meals, and listen to music while Geoff usually slips into a peaceful nap. One night has the couple dancing and reminiscing, leading to a brief attempt to make love. There’s a very natural, almost voyeuristic quality to these scenes. The tone is quiet, with sparse use of music. However, “45 Years” is not just about the settled, happy years of a long marriage. Instead, the film is equally about the sacrifices and compromises made during such a long relationship. As envy begins to affect the wife’s feelings towards her own husband, we see that co-inhabiting with someone for that long doesn’t come without its costs.

Mostly, “45 Years” is a showcase for Charlotte Rampling. Tom Courtenay is very good as Geoff yet the story is about Kate. Rampling does not do the kind of big showy acting favored by the Academy. Instead, she’s frequently silent. Acting primarily with her face and hushed whispers, Rampling speaks volumes with simple gestures or expressions. A moment, when studying Geoff’s photos of the dead girl, is almost unbearably sad. As she clicks through the slides, a deeper sense of sadness overtakes both Rampling and the audience.When quietly commenting on the long pass ex-girlfriend, from the comfort of a bed, Rampling’s abilities touch the audience even more. Charlotte Rampling’s challenging, powerful performance is a strong foundation to build this quietly effecting drama upon.

As the story progresses, an understated tension builds. The film emphasizes this by marking the passing of each day, announcing the day of the week with white-on-black titles. As the date of the party approaches, “45 Years” seems to be approaching a seriously dramatic event. Kate becomes less and less willing to shoulder the tension of her relationship. This is especially evident during a scene where Geoff rants about his old job, Kate silently – but just barely – swallowing her feelings. However, “45 Years” doesn’t end with a melodramatic explosion of emotion. Because real life rarely works that way. Instead, secret feelings slowly boil over, resentment and jealous swallowed in the name of politeness and love.

Despite obviously appealing to the AMPAS’ old person fetish, “45 Years” is not the kind of big, showy, Important with a Capital I filmmaking that usually excites the Academy. Instead, the film worms under the audience’s skin with a clear understanding of human emotion, effecting direction, and a wonderful central performance. It’s under two hours long too, so it doesn’t linger. Instead, it hits like a silent bomb. [8/10]

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