Of my limited knowledge I have of gay cinema, 2011’s Weekend which was written and directed by Andrew Haigh, is easily the best. A hangout movie that sits somewhere between Richard Linklater and Ken Loach, it follows the story of two blokes who meet for what is ostensibly a one night stand but blossoms into what may be something life-changing for the pair of them.
With 45 Years, Haigh proves that he is in line to be one of the UK’s greatest filmmakers so long as he doesn’t do a Michael Reeves and die now he’s made his third one. It is quite incredible that, in the space of two consecutive films, he has so succinctly and believably dramatised both the burgeoning of a young relationship and the compromised love of a decades-long marriage. It’s also significant with Haigh traversing sexualities aswell, which is not something that many straight filmmakers can say of themselves.
45 Years drops in on ageing couple Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff (Tom Courtenay) a week before their big 45-year wedding anniversary bash. Geoff receives a letter from Switzerland informing him that the body of a former girlfriend has been uncovered from a glacier. This sends Geoff into an emotional and psychological tailspin and home truths are unleashed on the Norfolk couple.
What really works with both this and Weekend, Haigh proves that he is able to see past the nominal character traits (age, sexual orientation, relationship status) and see the rounded people who are alternately secretive, abrasive, smart, stupid, belligerent and giving like normal people. These two old people are neither doddering, swearing-for-laughs, crumbling victims and nor are they wizened wizards spouting cod life lesson platitudes to starry-eyed youngsters. They are normal people: honest but cowardly, open but guarded, left but right. Geoff is honest with Kate about how much this previous relationship meant to him but he isn’t giving her all the details but is he being deliberately deceptive or is he trying to spare Kate’s feelings? Is Kate being insensitive to his tragic past or is she being pushed towards expressing a truth that she has known and resented all along?
This is low-key drama with mighty, universal undercurrents but the kind of thing that twats who don’t know what they’re talking about say shouldn’t be in a cinema. However, the scene in which Kate enters the attic alone (where Geoff has been spending a good deal of time at odd hours of the day and night) and sees for the first time the extent of Geoff’s relationship with the dead girlfriend. It is played with no dialogue, just a single take – a medium wide shot – and Charlotte Rampling’s reactions to out-of-focus slides on a projector screen in the foreground of the shot. That is cinematic storytelling of the highest order! Character, plot, acting and directing coming together in a moment of emotion and light. Brilliant!
So, in the end, go and see it. I certainly will be setting aside cash to catch Andrew Haigh’s future projects at the cinema and will have to catch up with his HBO series, Looking. I only hope he goes from strength to strength.