We are surrounded by media as never before. Whether it’s news, entertainment or marketing, we are bombarded by messages all day long. It’s hard to escape the cacophony, and it’s difficult sometimes to remember exactly where you read, heard or saw something. Things resonate with us, but only for a moment before we move on. News stories, mainly, have the lifespan of a mayfly, and works of art rarely have anything more than a transitory power.
Which is why the film 45 Years, currently showing at cinemas, is such a rare beast. I knew, the minute the credits finished, that this haunting, profound and intensely moving film would stay with me for some time. It is a portrait of a marriage between an elderly couple (played with subtlety and virtuosity by Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay) who live in bucolic isolation on the Norfolk Broads and who are preparing for a party to celebrate their 45 years together.
Each shift of mood is understated, and the creeping air of melancholia, seeping from the misty, atmospheric landscape, pervades every corner of the couple’s life. The climax of the film is entirely ambiguous, but is even more shattering for that. It is a very unusual film, for the simple reason that it is so real. No Hollywood easy ending here, nothing tied up with a pretty bow. Not much of an opportunity to flog merchandise, either.
More than a portrait of a marriage, 45 Years is a study of old age, warts and all (sometimes literally), and rarely has the subject been tackled with such honesty and bravery. In the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel series, old people are vibrant, fun and sexually active. Here, one of the pivotal scenes is when Courtenay and Rampling (pictured) attempt to have sex, but can’t quite manage it. Imagine pitching that one to a Hollywood studio. A 70-year-old couple trying unsuccessfully to have sex? Hmmm, I think we might pass on that.
Anyone who is married, been married, or is worried about getting old (i.e. the vast majority of the adult population) will find this film affecting in the way it lingers in the psyche. Is old age really like that? A lament for times past, for opportunities missed, laced with the dissatisfaction and disappointment of a routine, ordered, and now unexceptional, life? Rampling is utterly spellbinding, and embodies the vérité of this particular piece of cinema. She is 69 years old, and looks it. Except, of course, that she doesn’t. With a face which doesn’t betray any sign of the cosmetic surgeon’s scalpel, she has a naturalistic glamour that fills the screen, and the resonance of her don’t-mess-with-me beauty comes from the fact that it isn’t airbrushed or manipulated in any way. To my eyes, she’s as sexy as any Hollywood starlet you could name.
Yes, it’s a stunning film, all right. Most people in the auditorium sat speechless and motionless until the last credit was shown. Within a nanosecond thereafter, they were on their mobile phones, but I guarantee this was a fragment of our media landscape that they would not forget in a hurry.Reuse content