Films that concern the elderly typically go one of two ways: We either are being shown the ways age can be shrugged off if you happen to possess the right attitude (1985’s Cocoon); or, we get a first-hand look at the misery and depth of the loss we can expect in our later lives (witness Amour (2012), then prepare to sit in a darkened room by yourself for a while). Few films cover the ground in-between those particular poles, and fewer still concern themselves with the romantic gerrymandering and gamesmanship of a long-standing relationship. We might all like to imagine our grandparents happy and supported in one-another’s eternal love, but the truth is, they are human beings, like the rest of us, and therefore subject to the exact same kinds of foibles, misdirections, and bitter disappointments.
As the title suggests, the years have surely gone by in the marriage of Geoff (Tom Courtenay) and Kate (Charlotte Rampling). Comfortable and staid in their lives in their pleasant English village house, happily ensconced in their routine, the childless pair are approaching a large anniversary party to make up for the their failed attempt at a 40th, due to Geoff’s sudden bypass surgery. There’s a sense of anticipation they normally aren’t subject to, which charges the air between them ever so slightly. A few days before their party, after walking their German Shepherd, Geoff receives a letter in the post that seemingly changes everything Kate thought they shared between them. “They’ve found her,” he tells his wife, “they’ve found her.”
He’s referring to the body of his previous love, who fell off a glacier they were hiking on back in 1962, just a few years before meeting and marrying ever-loyal and dependable Kate, a figure and a story she has never heard him mention in all their decades together. As small a thing as it might seem at first — Geoff’s reaction is more like relief than shock or emotion — it’s enough to send massive reverberations through the marriage, forcing Kate to reassess her place in her husband’s life, and possibly how well suited they were for each other in the first place.
Based on the short story by David Constantine (In Another Country), Andrew Haigh’s film is weighty and thoughtful, asking probing questions about our relationships to each other, and reinforcing the well-established truism that nobody can know precisely what’s in anybody else’s mind. How are you supposed to account for a life shared together, the film suggests, when it turns out your partner had their own experience, far different from your own?
A film this quiet and understated needs every element to work in subtle harmony, and Haigh has clearly poured over the nuances and details until the film hums with dignified vitality. To pick but one example of his extraordinary attention to detail, the sound design is absolutely mesmerizing. The film opens from black with the faintly recognizable sound of a photo carousel clicking through images, foreshadowing a key revelation yet to come; in the distant background of their comfortable, lived-in house, you can hear a softly ominous swell of wind whipping through the eaves; there’s the cacophonous thrum of conversation, overwhelming their party space, and blowing apart the stolid, simple intimacy the couple have normally shared.
Shot selection, too, is pivotal, and DP Lol Crawley works seamlessly to incorporate the themes of the work in his simple, unfussy design, never more so than in the film’s final shot of Kate as the couple share their first dance together ––appropriately enough, to “Smoke Gets in Their Eyes”. The camera slowly, disturbingly creeps closer to her face, capturing in ever-more intimate proximity the subtle anguish and resolution she experiences in the arms of her life partner.
Clearly, though, the most important aspect of the production is the acting chops of the leads, and in this, Rampling (who earned an Oscar nomination) and Courtenay, are thoroughly absorbing. Theirs is the kind of subtle intimacy earned by age and time, like the wood floor in a pantry that over the years becomes smoothed and worn in the exact stretch of space before the shelves. Such is their bond, they only speak in hushed, half sentences when we first meet them, which makes the upheaval in their quiet existence all the more powerful and jarring. When their intimacy is threatened, as Kate becomes more aware of her husband’s previous life without her, she desperately tries to find that groove again, but as durable and established as it might have been, it has become permanently changed.
If Haigh’s film relies on the quiet and subtle, there’s no mistaking the atomized emotional destruction going on between the characters. In their echoing silence, there contains multitudes.
There are no extras with this DVD.