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Charlotte Rampling tries to make sense of her married life in "45 Years."

At first, it was all good for 45 Years. After winning the Silver Bear (runner-up) prize at the prestigious Berlinale last year, this British drama debuted in American theaters to widespread acclaim, made many critics’ lists of 2015’s best movies, and won an Oscar nomination for Best Actress for Charlotte Rampling’s performance. And then Rampling opened her mouth and said some very silly clueless-old-white-person things about diversity among her fellow Oscar nominees, and it seemed to eclipse all the good work that the movie had done, not to mention torpedo any chance she might have had to win the trophy. After playing in Dallas for some weeks, the movie now finally makes its way to theaters here, so you finally have the chance to separate it from the lead actress’ ignorance. I dare say you’ll find it worthwhile.

[box_info]45 Years
Starring Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay. Written and directed by Andrew Haigh, based on David Constantine’s short story. Rated R.[/box_info]

Rampling stars as Kate Mercer, a well-to-do retired schoolteacher in a quaint village in Norfolk who’s currently devoting most of her time to planning a big party to celebrate her 45th wedding anniversary with her husband Geoff (Tom Courtenay). The preparations are interrupted by a letter from Swiss authorities asking Geoff to identify the recently discovered body of his ex-girlfriend, who died in a mountain hiking accident before he even met Kate. Indeed, he and the other woman told people they were married at the time, which is why the authorities are contacting him now. However, this fact comes as a complete and unwelcome surprise to Kate.

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Based on the short story “In Another Country” by David Constantine, this is adapted by Andrew Haigh, who does exquisite small-scale British dramas about intimate relationships like this one. His previous movie, the Linklateresque gay romance Weekend, made my list of the best movies of 2011. (He also created the HBO TV show Looking.) This film does not have the same delirious comic highs as Weekend, but it does have an insight into the ins and outs of a long-term couple like the Mercers that’s fairly astonishing coming from a 42-year-old filmmaker. Engaging in pregnant pauses and things left unsaid, Haigh tracks the ripple effects that the revelation makes in the Mercers’ marriage, as Kate’s initial titillation at the thought of another woman desiring Geoff turns to the cold realization that she knows far less about her husband than she thinks.

45 Years culminates in a brilliantly ambiguous scene when the Mercers dance together at the anniversary party to The Platters’ cover of “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” You can talk until dawn about the meaning of the anguished expression on Rampling’s face at the end of the dance, but there’s no denying its power. The same goes for this searching study of the impossibility of fully knowing another person and the choices we make and don’t make over a lifetime.

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