45 Years Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: The Art of Quiet Devastation

Charlotte Rampling does extraordinary work in the third feature from British filmmaker Andrew Haigh.
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The camera never strays far from Charlotte Rampling in Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years, and for good reason. In this elegant, if slightly hermetic, study of the suddenly visible fissures in a long-tenured marriage, Rampling’s extraordinarily expressive face traverses all the emotion that’s sublimated in Haigh’s script, an adaptation of David Constantine’s whisper of a short story.

Rampling stars as Kate Mercer, who’s planning a 45th anniversary party for her and her husband, Geoff (Tom Courtenay), when he receives a major piece of news about an old girlfriend. At first, the revelation pokes at the seeming sturdiness of their quiet life in a sleepy Norfolk town, and then it shoves a little harder.

There are a few supporting characters here, but Haigh mostly alternates between scenes of Kate in isolation, often walking alone with her German shepherd across a foggy landscape, and lengthy one shots of Kate and Geoff together. Courtenay is quite good, creating a character who may or may not be as intractable as he first appears, but this is Rampling’s film. Pick nearly any scene, even one that ostensibly focuses on another person, and the inner tumult on face makes for an increasingly complex and moving portrait.

Early in the film, Kate and Geoff are lying in bed, and he begins to open up about his relationship with his ex, a figure Kate had barely known anything about before. Rampling hardly speaks in this scene, but her expressions guide us through her deeply conflicted feelings, first an ascent to the joy of discovery and a newfound intimacy with her husband as he reveals a crucial moment in his past, and then the downslope into fear and alienation as she realizes how much time has passed without her knowing any of this.

It’s an extraordinary moment, and there are many more of these quietly shattering scenes to come: a piece played alone on the piano, a visit to a travel agent, a discovery of some projector slides in the attic, and in the film’s gut-punch of a finale, the full weight of a realization. In all of them, Rampling finds ways to complicate her character’s relationship with a difficult truth.

45 Years is Criterion’s second release of a Haigh film, after their 2012 release of his sophomore feature Weekend, and it’s an easy improvement over the barebones Paramount Blu-ray. The 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer is basically flawless, delivering crystal clear images and excellent levels of fine detail even in low-light scenes. Unlike Weekend, which was mostly shot on prosumer digital cameras, 45 Years was shot on 35mm, and the transfer faithfully captures that film-like look. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is also excellent, offering a fairly immersive surround experience and clean dialogue and diegetic music, with the songs from Kate and Geoff’s past acting as revealing emotional signposts.

The extras are pretty routine, including a commentary track with Haigh and producer Tristan Goligher that was ported from the Artificial Eye Region B release. New to this edition: a making-of doc that includes interviews with both stars, Haigh, Goligher, editor Jonathan Alberts and DP Lol Crawley, and an interview with author Constantine, who discusses his appreciation of the film and the way it expanded upon his short story. An insert with an essay by critic Ella Taylor is also included.

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