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Arts & Culture

'45 Years' Looks To Marriage On The Rocks

Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling star as a couple whose marriage is thrown into turmoil by a discovery from the past in "45 Years."
Sundance Selects
Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling star as a couple whose marriage is thrown into turmoil by a discovery from the past in "45 Years."

Film showcases actress Charlotte Rampling

Film Review: '45 Years'
KPBS film critic Beth Accomando reviews "45 Years."

Anomalisa, opening this weekend, just nabbed an Oscar nomination for best animated film (will confirm this at 5:30am tomorrow). KPBS film critic Beth Accomando says it will make you rethink your expectations about animation. American audiences tend to think of animation as a genre for kids. “Anomalisa” challenges those expectations on multiple levels. CLIP What is it to be human, what is it to be alive? First by being an animated film for adults and more deeply by delivering a story that initially seems better suited to live action. CLIP I think you’re extraordinary… why?... I don’t know, it’s just obvious that you are. But Charlie Kaufman’s bittersweet tale of two people discovering their humanity in a blandly homogenous society plays much better as stop motion animation. The stylistic choice lends a surreal quality to the story and proves impressively affecting. Beth Accomando, KPBS News.

Companion viewing

"Under the Sand" (2000)

"Swimming Pool" (2003)

"Lemming" (2005)

Subscribe now to listen to extended reviews and interviews here.

Charlotte Rampling received a best actress Oscar nomination for "45 Years" (opening Jan. 29 at Landmark's Hillcrest Cinemas, Arclight La Jolla, and Angelika Center). The performance is award-worthy but the actress’ response to the outcry over the all-white nominees may have killed her chances of winning.

At 69-years-old, Charlotte Rampling proves that actresses can hit their prime later in life. This year has been especially rich in showcasing older actresses with Blythe Danner ("I'll See You in My Dreams"), Lily Tomlin ("Gramdma"), Helen Mirren ("Woman in Gold"), Cynthia Nixon "James White") and Maggie Smith ("The Woman in the Van") all having films in which they drove the storyline.

Rampling, who began her career playing roles that emphasized her physical appeal, has matured into an actress of astounding range and subtlety. Her films, and there are many, in the past two decades have proven far more interesting and challenging than any of her earlier work. Of course she has had to go outside of the Hollywood system to consistently find those complex roles but she has found them and directors have taken advantage of her exceptional skill.

So it is gratifying to see her receive some Hollywood recognition, in the form of an Oscar nomination, for her work in "45 Years" but sad to see some of that glow dulled by her off screen remarks about the Academy's lack of diversity. In response to calls for a boycott of the Oscars, she was quoted as saying: “It is racist against whites. One can never really know, but sometimes maybe black actors did not deserve to make the final list.”

Whether you agree with her comment or not, it should not take away from the fact that her performance in "45 Years" is one of the finest by any actress this year.

The film opens with Geoff (an equally brilliant Tom Courtenay) and Kate (Charlotte Rampling) going about their morning routines. She's up early walking the dog and doing chores while he's puttering about in his robe. Then he opens a letter that reveals that the body of his girlfriend -- who had died in a mountain climbing accident 50 years ago -- has just been found in the ice. Kate is concerned how the news will affect her husband but she's startled but just how concerned he is.

We also discover that the couple is about to hold a big 45th wedding anniversary party with all their friends in just a week. But the letter has set off a quiet explosion that throws into turmoil a marriage that seems to have been quite tender and loving.

At first, Kate's reaction is a kind of low-grade re-evaluation of her marriage. At one point she looks around her home and notes to Geoff, "Sometimes I think it’s a shame not to have more photos around the house… we don’t have any, not really. I mean not like Lena does with her wall display. But then maybe that's because they have kids and grandchildren." To which Geoff points out, "You used to say that everybody taking pictures all the time stopped everyone having any fun."

But then Kate finds herself becoming jealous of the dead woman. And she confronts Geoff, "If she hadn’t died, if you hadn’t got to Italy, would you have married her?"

The answer makes Kate rethink her marriage and question Geoff's love.

Writer-director Andrew Haigh makes "45 Years" a showcase for Rampling as Kate. It’s a mostly reactive performance but in her silences and facial expressions she conveys a quiet upheaval in her character. Haigh makes sure that the film and the camera always follow her, always watch her and how she is responding to events and people. It's a film that is patient as it observes a marriage unravel and a woman trying to decide how the past will affect her future.

"45 Years" (rated R for language and brief sexuality) is an intelligently crafted film in which the pyrotechnics are all in the performances.

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