It’s stunning how subtle and delicate “45 Years” introduces itself, only to end on such a heavy and gut wrenching final scene that leaves you with the weight of questions and uneasy answers. From beginning to end, director Andrew Haigh confronts many of life’s very difficult problems, including how easy it is for a relationship approaching a century, can be dismantled in only a week. Haigh almost seems to count down to the final day where couple Kate and Geoff celebrates their four and a half decades together as a married couple. Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling are stellar as a seemingly mundane husband and wife whose life is changed one day with a letter that arrives for Geoff.
He’s learned that Katya, the very first woman he was ever with, has been found on a melting glacier after a disastrous hike many years before. What seems like a small announcement soon begins to alter Kate’s life, as she realizes Geoff’s relationship with Katya had more significance to him than she ever really understood. “45 Years” examines how we can never truly know the person we love or the people we’re around, no matter how closely we stick by them. Geoff and Kate is the picture of a long happy marriage, with their own rituals, and polite conversations, not to mention their own passion. But as Geoff begins harping on his past with Katya, it creates such a strong wedge to where Kate realizes Geoff is something of a stranger. Director Andrew Haigh confronts so many more themes about the secrets we keep from our lovers, the secrets we keep from ourselves, and idea that some things about our past should remain in the past.
Can one face being in a marriage where the love of their life probably wouldn’t marry them again if given the chance? Could you live with the notion that your partner probably loved someone more than they ever did with you? Haigh’s exploration of this relationship being dismantled gradually becomes torturous for Kate, and inevitably the audience, as she’s forced to view Geoff in a different light. What’s worse is that she begins to even question his motivation behind being with her, and if he’s remained married to her out of love, or dutiful obligation. Neither option are all too satisfying for Kate, whose unraveling is heartbreaking. By the end, Kate’s forced in to a painful and uncomfortable corner, and sadly has spent so much of her life in a relationship to where the prospect of starting over seems dire and horrifying.
All she knows is that she’s tasked with maintaining her self respect and dignity in the face of a conundrum that may just drum up even more painful secrets. Rampling’s turn is a thing of beauty, and Andrew Haigh’s drama is a stark but elegant master stroke of a portrait of the disintegration of a marriage.
Featured in the new Criterion Edition is the original Sundance Select trailer for “45 Years,” which is in English and not subtitled. “The Making of 45 Years” is a new documentary filmed in 2016, exclusive to Criterion that takes a closer look at the production history of the film. There are clips from new interviews with director Andrew Haigh, stars Tom Courtenay, and Charlotte Rampling, and producer Tristan Goligher, among so many others. There’s an audio commentary with director Andrew Haigh and producer Tristan Goligher, who provide great detail in where and how various sequences of “45 Years” were shot, and they also discuss the important editing decisions, the different dilemmas both characters face as their relationship evolves, the finale, and much more. This commentary was created in 2015. There’s a video interview with author and poet David Constantine, who discusses Andrew Haigh’s loose adaptation of his short story “In Another Country,” and the changes that were made in “45 Years.” This is another Criterion exclusive made in 2016. Finally there’s a leaflet in the Blu-Ray case with illustrations for the film, and a large essay by critic Ella Taylor.