A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

45 Years (Andrew Haigh, 2015)

Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years
Kate Mercer: Charlotte Rampling
Geoff Mercer: Tom Courtenay
Lena: Geraldine James
Sally: Dolly Wells
George: David Sibley

Director: Andrew Haigh
Screenplay: Andrew Haigh
Based on a story by David Constantine
Cinematography: Lol Crawley

Even in the longest marriages, couples still have something they can never share: those years before they met. Old failures, old loves, old sorrows are locked in the minds of each partner. This is the stuff of which stories are made, perhaps most brilliantly in James Joyce's story "The Dead." Fiction has ways of dealing with the emotional tension imposed on the present by a past that movies can't quite evoke except, conventionally, by flashbacks. Fortunately, Andrew Haigh doesn't do anything so conventional in 45 Years, his adaptation of the story "In Another Country" by David Constantine. Instead, he trusts his actors to carry the burden, revealing in the cinematic present the effects of the unshown past. Kate and Geoff are about to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary with a big party they had originally planned, we learn, for their 40th anniversary. It had to be postponed when Geoff went in the hospital for a coronary bypass. As they sit at the kitchen table a few days before the party, discussing the music they want played -- Geoff thinks it would be "kind of naff," i.e., corny, to play the Platters' "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," which they danced to at their wedding -- he opens a letter he has received from Switzerland. The body of a woman he traveled with, more than 50 years ago, has been found preserved in glacial ice. He's intrigued and disturbed by the discovery, including the fact that she would still look the way she did in her 20s, whereas he is old and gray. Geoff has never told Kate much about Katya and her death, so as the days go by and he continues to be obsessed by the news, she begins to pry information out of him and eventually makes her own discovery: that when she fell to her death Katya was pregnant. Haigh's determined restraint as a storyteller shines here. We never hear the truth spoken by any of the characters -- Kate doesn't confront Geoff with what she learns -- but only witness Kate as, looking through Geoff's things in the attic, she finds a cache of old slides. As she projects them on a sheet, we see what she sees: Katya with a contented look as she places her hand on her protruding belly. Because we know that Kate and Geoff are childless, this revelation has an even greater emotional impact. The tension between husband and wife grows, born of Kate's inquisitiveness and Geoff's reluctance to open himself up, but voices are scarcely raised. Fortunately, Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay are more than equal to the task of showing how this half-century-old secret affects their lives. That we remember the catlike young Rampling, with her ice-blue eyes and wide sensuous mouth, and the weedy, angry young man that Courtenay often played also helps us contemplate the passage of time as we project those images onto the aging actors on the screen. Haigh ends on a masterstroke: Although Kate and Geoff have seemingly come to terms with the past, and he gives a speech at the party proclaiming his love for her, she has overruled his criticism and chosen "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" for their lead-off dance. And as the Jerome Kern-Otto Harbach song ends, we realize along with Kate, left alone on the dance floor, that she has chosen a song about lost love to celebrate their anniversary.


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