45 YEARS, drama, rated R, Center for Contemporary Arts and Violet Crown, 3.5 chiles
“They’ve found Katya.” Geoff (Tom Courtenay), sitting at the kitchen table of his comfortable country house in the county of Norfolk, England, is piecing his way through a letter in German that has just arrived in the mail from Switzerland. He looks up, dumbstruck, and tells his wife, Kate (Charlotte Rampling), the news. Katya was Geoff’s girlfriend before he met and married Kate. She fell into a crevasse while they were hiking a Swiss Alpine glacier and was never found. Now global warming is melting the glacier, and Katya’s body, along with a lot of long-frozen and -buried memories and emotions, is coming to light.
Director Andrew Haigh ( Weekend) uses this tale (based on David Constantine’s short story “In Another Country”) and the considerable talents of his veteran stars, to explore the way lives can turn on a moment. Katya’s life turned and ended on the slip of a foot. Geoff and Kate’s life together — spanning a comfortable 45 years that they’re about to celebrate — turns on the opening of that letter. Kate (the similarity of the women’s names can be no coincidence) goes on with her life, hiring a hall and making plans for the anniversary celebration. But she finds herself shaken to the core by the reemergence of the ghost of the girl her husband loved before he loved her — the girl he lost so dramatically. The comfort of their married life is suddenly and disconcertingly on unstable ground.
Some things in life are the work of a moment, and some are pulled along by the gravity of gradual change. Geoff is beginning the slow, painful process of losing his ability to remember, and here comes Katya, a distant but vivid memory. Here are Geoff and Kate, their youthful beauty eroded by time, and here comes Katya, preserved in ice, her body as fresh and young as it was on that fateful day almost half a century ago.
Courtenay and Rampling deliver on their lifetime of experience in acting and in living, giving us touching, hauntingly nuanced performances that reflect not only the characters they are playing here, but their own youthful selves as well, the echoes of their ’60s breakthroughs — she in Georgy
Girl and he in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. The problems released through the opening of that Pandora’s letter may be papered over with time — and with the determination not to let them destroy a marriage that has been carefully nurtured through the decades — but they are there now, out in the world, doing their mischief. And perhaps they always were. — Jonathan Richards
Red letter day: Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling