The 51st Annual Chicago International Film Festival, 322 E. Illinois St., which kicked off Thursday, October 15 and runs through October 29, features films from all over the world, from varying genres and from both emerging and established directors.
From October 16-18, I tried to see as many films as I could without going numb. This proved to be a rather emotionally hefty task. Of the five films I saw over three days – I Smile Back on Friday, 45 Years, James White and Entertainment on Saturday, and Tikkun on Sunday – four of the five were the tough, emotionally draining exercises that are often enamored by The Academy. Luckily, these films were also cathartic cinematic experiences, confronting audiences with extreme close-up examinations of substance abuse, the exhaustive, dark side of the entertainment industry and a theme appearing in all the films; the mania that derives in characters who have no understanding of how to communicate their feelings with those they claim to love most.
[Editor’s Note] As part of an ongoing series, we will be posting daily reviews and recaps from films screened at the Chicago International Film Festival. The reviews will be capsule reviews, with full reviews being held until the films’ U.S. release dates. First up is 45 YEARS…
Director: Andrew Haigh
Run Time: 93 mins.
Festival Section: Main Competition
In 45 Years, writer/director Andrew Haigh examines the ways the past can resurface among a married couple on the brink of their 45th wedding anniversary. Issues of lost love and jealousy, as well as impotency, will percolate to the surface at the most inopportune times. And as with real life, these issues may never reveal themselves in giant outbursts or breakdowns, but in subtle glances and shifts in behavior.
Charlotte Rampling as Kate and Tom Courtenay as Geoff deliver incredible performances, handling with poise the nuanced aspects of the characters that the script demands. Kate is reeling with the consequences that her husband has received a letter stating his lost love Katya’s body has been found frozen, and that he is officially marked as the next of kin. Why hasn’t Geoff ever revealed this to Kate? Why would he, they don’t seem to speak about much.
Kate and Geoff’s relationship soon becomes strained. It is no coincidence that Kate and Katya are mirrored both by their names as well as by their physical features (revealed in dialogue). When Kate can’t communicate her feelings of jealousy and insecurity, she avoids casual eye contact with her husband, and flusters to find something to clean to occupy her anxiety. Quiet, telling moments such as these make the austere cinematic tone pay off in dividends.
Motifs also present themselves in terms of sound. The opening title cards appear before a black screen, changing to the sound of a projector switching slides. The same projector will then illuminate Katya’s image before Kate and the same sound will cue a devastating reveal regarding the extent of Katya and Geoff’s intimacy before Kate entered the picture 45 years ago.
Kate’s marriage, and thus, her life, depends on confronting the past. The extent of the restrain and emotion both lead actors show over the film is remarkable, and while 45 Years may be paced slowly, the subtle romantic breakdowns and confrontations with the past will evoke a quiver in viewers rather than immediate knee-jerk reaction, attesting to the power 45 Years will have over repeat viewings.
45 Years will open Dec. 23 in limited release.