Film review of the drama starring Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay about the secrets that are revealed as a couple approach their 45th wedding anniversary.
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Director: Andrew Haigh. The Bureau/Artificial Eye et al (15)
Cast & credits
Producer: Tristan Goligher.
Writer: Andrew Haigh.
Camera: Lol Crawley.
Sets: Sarah Finlay.
Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay, Dolly Wells, Geraldine James, Hannah Chalmers.
A couple (Rampling and Courtenay) are preparing to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary. But the husband’s past threatens to intrude on this, as the remains of his long-since missing first love are uncovered atop a mountain in Switzerland. By the time the party is upon them, there may not be a wedding left to celebrate.
A discernible chill runs through this patient, penetrating examination of what lies beneath even the most outwardly content and warm of marriages.
Perhaps autopsy is a more correct term than examination, considering the death jolt we are given during the final moments, but patient fits the tone of Haigh’s subtle, delicate, prolonged spousal falling out, performed with such natural finesse by two of our finest film actors.
There is hardly a raised word between them, despite the palpable antagonism from Rampling toward Courtenay’s boorish, absent-mindedly neglectful husband. She tries her best to tolerate his feelings for a first love she had hardly ever heard about, listening with pained interest, but eventually bars her name being mentioned. She roots out some old piano music to play the next day, but switches swiftly from a relatively upbeat piece to a more depressive composition.
The tension between them gnaws away like this in increments from the start. Kate walks the almost barren Norfolk broads alone, the wind whipping around her. She talks to Geoff, but as he answers he is hidden from view, a motif repeated throughout the film, representing not only the part of his life that he has hitherto kept from her, but also his feelings for his much-missed Katya, feelings that have until now been buried as deep as that poor girl in the glaciers of Switzerland.
NB: on his decision to film in Norfolk, with the landscape mirroring the marital status of the two leads, Haigh was interviewed by his local press. Note too, the muted colour scheme, all grey’s beige and browns.
“My Katya…” he says, twice with the accent on that first word, announcing her prominence in his affections. Katya is rather like the first Mrs De Winter in Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940), an enigmatic, beautiful, always unseen force wreaking havoc on the second wife. Here she has a similar name to this interloper, but we do eventually get to see her. Firstly, on the reverse side of a screen as Kate views slides of her, the clunk-click of the projector sounding like the agonising blink of a mechanical eye (maybe Kate’s eyes, as she registers nothing but loss and pain), also neatly bringing us back to the sound played over the opening credits. For a short while, we see her clearly.
Rampling and Courtenay have been acting on screen for around 50 years apiece yet this is only their second film together (Night Train To Lisbon was released in 2013). That fact makes the easy domesticity of their scenes together even more impressive, that cosy feeling partners might get as they finish each other’s sentences, chide each other for smoking, have unremarkable but still fun sex (yes, they have a sex scene together and it’s amusingly normal rather than uncomfortable) but can be left bewildered, bereft if not obliterated by the other’s acts or omissions.
Both leads give exceptionally quiet, understated performances. Rather than go for the big bang, emotional fallout, they give alternating, shifting reactions and barely speak above normal speaking volume.
It would be pointless and a waste of words to further analyse their acting, they just work together so wonderfully well. Both won Silver Bear acting awards at the most recent Berlin Film Festival. We can only hope, on the evidence here, that they work together soon.