The story is quite bizarre in Andrew Haigh’s new film, 45 Years. It’s one week from Kate and Geoff’s 45th wedding anniversary, and a letter arrives in the mail. It’s all in German, but Geoff understands the message perfectly clear. The body of his first love has been discovered in a glacier fifty years after she died tragically on a hike.
From the first minute of the film, we see how affected Geoff is by this news. He tries desperately to brush it off for Kate’s sake, but when climate change and the possibility of going to Switzerland come up in conversation, Kate can’t shake the ghost of Katya. Geoff’s former fiancee has infiltrated their happy home.
Day by day, as we get closer to their milestone party, secrets come unraveled and Geoff yields to his obsession. One night, he leaves Kate in their bed to rummage through the attic. When Kate goes to see what the noise is, she discovers Geoff with a photo of Katya.
“I just found it.”
“You didn’t find it. You went searching for it in the middle of the night.”
Despite the letter being addressed to Geoff, this is not his film. This film is focused on Kate and how she reacts to this sudden news. Every shot has her in focus with Geoff either cut just out of frame or slightly blurred. We hear Geoff’s stories, but we see Kate’s face which makes the tale haunting and beautiful.
Charlotte Rampling plays Kate in a fearless and humanistic way. The subtleties in her facial expressions and even the slightest voice inflection instantly convey her mind. Everything around her is tainted. For all of these years, she has lived among a ghost she never knew about. Is this not betrayal?
The story that inspired the film came from true events. In the 1930s, a mountaineer fell in a glacier in Chamonix, France. About 70 years later, they found him and brought his then 80 year old son to identify the body. Upon seeing his father in his young state, the son “tipped toward insanity.”
David Constantine heard this story and penned In Another Country. News of uncovering a long buried past is fascinating to anyone, but Constantine brings real beauty to an uncommon story. What makes the story different to the film is that it focuses on Geoff rather than Kate. We read much more of his inner dialogue and see more of his actions. But his thoughts are mostly silent adding to the tension in the marriage.
Everything changes in both the film and story with two words: “My Katya.” In the book, you can feel Kate’s hurt through the page, but we see it all too clearly in Kate’s face on the screen. Nothing will be the same after that sentence.
“Then she wept to herself, for the unfairness.”
Kate is hurt, naturally, but her reaction is limited to this sentence as well as this following passage:
“All she wanted was to be able to say it hasn’t been nothing, it hasn’t been a waste of time, the fifty years, that they amount to something, if not a child, a something made and grown between man and wife you could be proud of and nearly as substantial as a child.”
The story is beautifully written even in its short length. So much is conveyed in so little in both the film and Constantine’s book. The differences between the two mediums are negligible showcasing the talent of Haigh to not over embellish or dramatize the core story.
What started as a bizarre science-fiction premise turns into a tale of regret and looking over a life lived. I would say this is a case of midlife crisis, but both Kate and Geoff have lived full and long lives. There is nothing in front of them except the end. But now, instead of living their golden years as a happy couple, Katya has joined as an uncomfortable third.
I sincerely hope Charlotte Rampling is nominated for her role in this stunningly gorgeous film. She exudes the grace and feel of the British landscape she lives in. And while the haze of the British moors settles over the lands, the haze also settles over their marriage.
FILM > BOOK
4 out of 5 stars