A- A A+

Marriage interrupted by a life-lie disrupted

Tim Kroenert |  24 February 2016

 

 

45 Years (M). Director: Andrew Haigh. Starring: Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay. 95 minutes

'If you take the life lie from an average man, you take away his happiness as well.' So opines Relling, a character in Henrik Ibsen's 1884 play The Wild Duck. The play tests this theory against the experiences of an essentially contented blue-collar family when a well-meaning friend, believing in the liberating power of truth, chooses to reveal a long-concealed secret. The revelation in fact wreaks destruction; tragedy is the punchline of Ibsen's bleak parody of empty idealism.

A new Australian film, The Daughter, shares a direct lineage to The Wild Duck: it is an adaptation by first-time film director Simon Stone of his own Helpmann Award winning stage adaptation of Ibsen's play, which transposed the drama from 19th century Norway to modern, small-town Australia. Heavy in style and tone, it is elevated by gripping performances, notably from Ewen Leslie as the 'average man' husband-and-father who is devastated by the brutal undoing of his 'life-lie'.

The Daughter finds an unexpected counterpart in — and, through comparision, helps to illuminate — 45 Years, British filmmaker Andrew Haigh's adaptation of David Constantine's short story 'In Another Country'. It centres on Kate (Rampling) and Geoff (Courtenay) Mercer, an ageing, childless Norfolk couple on the brink of celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary. As Kate goes about planning a party, news arrives that the body of Katya, Geoff's long-dead first love, has been discovered in a Swiss glacier.

Charlotte Rampling in 45 YearsThe 'life-lie' here proves to be not a concealment but rather a pragmatic minimisation of truth. Geoff asks Kate if he ever told her about Katya: 'Yes,' says Kate. 'I'm sure I told you about my Katya,' Geoff repeats. The repeated question and possessive pronoun immediately indicate that this news might be more than a minor shock for Geoff. Kate is initially supportive, yet as the days pass and Geoff's plaintive mood intensifies, the true dimensions of his feelings for the departed Katya emerge.

Where The Daughter is heavily emotive, 45 Years is mild in tone, but no less compelling for it. Kate and Geoff live among The Broads of eastern Norfolk, and Lol Crawley's beautifully composed cinematography frames them standing against or moving through that bucolic landscape; just as the landscape is wide-open and ever, subtly changing, so too the faces of the two actors reveal far more than is communicated with words. (The performances are sublime.)

Yet still, in its writing and construction, the film skilfully conceals Geoff from us, as it does from Kate, even when they are in the same room. He is off camera at the precise moment when he receives the news about Katya, just beyond the edge of the frame, which centres on Kate idly rinsing dishes. In the same way it portrays Kate's private moments and hides Geoff's, so that even when they are in open dialogue (and their conversations are indeed open, and intimate), he seems part enigma.

The Daughter, like the play that inspired it, ends in tragedy; 45 Years though hits no such sensational peaks. The disruption of the Mercers' life-lie comes not in the form of shocking revelation, but slow-dawning realisation; not that Geoff isn't the man he purported to be, but that Kate may not be what she believed herself to be, to him. The eventual ramifications of this for their marriage remain unspoken. But as is only fitting, the film's final, wordless moments speak volumes.

 


Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is assistant editor of Eureka Street.

 



Comments

Comments should be short, respectful and on topic. Email is requested for identification purposes only.

Word Count: 0 (please limit to 200)

Similar articles

Partial portrait of a doomed artist as a young man

Tim Kroenert | 10 December 2015

The End of the Tour is most compelling as a consideration of the relationship between journalist and subject, which is a strange kind of beast, glorified in the sprawling feature profiles of Rolling Stone and its ilk. At its best the relationship is marked by intimacy generated through dialogue, but at its worst or it is mutually exploitative. Scenes from this year's Amy Schumer press junket revealed how bad things can go when an interviewer thinks they are going to befriend their celebrity interviewee.


Kidnapped woman's post-traumatic love

Tim Kroenert | 01 February 2016

For seven years, Joy has been held prisoner in the garden shed of a suburban maniac. During this time she has raised a son, Jack, who is now five, employing elaborate and imaginative methods to nurture and educate him, while protecting him from the reality of their existence. Room is remarkable for its capacity to transmit the bleakness of Joy's situation via the wonder-full gaze of Jack, for whom this makeshift prison is the entire world, bursting with possibilities for recreation, rest and learning.


Puppets' portrait of privilege and pathos

Tim Kroenert | 11 February 2016

As screenwriter for comic such oddities as Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, Kaufman delineated a particular type of over-educated, middle-class, white male character. His protagonists are artists whose alienation and self-loathing is at odds with their social privilege, and whose creative drive entails a winnowing for authenticity or immortality that leads them inexorably down the rabbit hole of their own navels: the search for meaning as the ultimate act of self-absorption.


2015 in review: Burning Scientology

Tim Kroenert | 14 January 2016

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of BeliefIf you're going to apply a blowtorch to an institution as wealthy and litigious as the Church of Scientology, you might best be advised to first apply a magnifying glass. Alex Gibney details the dark side of the movement: its dubious tax-exempt status; allegations of psychological and physical abuse of current members and harassment of former members. But he is equally interested in unpacking the nature of belief in Scientology: what draws people to it, and also what drives them away.


Ten films that got us thinking in 2015

2 Comments
Tim Kroenert | 17 December 2015

From the drama-filled mind of a pre-teen girl to the homes of former Indonesian death-squad members; from a day in the life of a transgender sex-worker to a grim and sublime new rendition of one of Shakespeare's most famous plays; from one actor's immense ego to another's fading relevance to an allegedly doomed writer's captivating self-effacement, Eureka Street's resident film buff Tim Kroenert revisits the characters and themes of some of the best and most conversation-worthy films of 2015.