Film & Television

Movie Review: ‘45 Years’ — Charlotte Rampling, Controversial But Oscar-Worthy


At this year’s Oscars (nominated in January and awarded in February), the two favorites for the Best Actress honor were both enormously talented and surprisingly young. Saoirse Ronan, at just 21, had captured our hearts as the determined Irish immigrant in Brooklyn. While Brie Larson, a full five years older, took home the statuette for her fearless portrayal of “Ma,” an abducted woman willing to risk everything to save her child in Room. Another relative youngster (although no stranger to the Academy Awards), Jennifer Lawrence, age 25, was nominated for Joy. And at 46, Cate Blanchett, two-time winner, nominated for Carol, would have been the category’s senior stateswoman.

If it weren’t for Charlotte Rampling.

Being exceptional is nothing new to Rampling. In fact, she has courted controversy for decades. Now 70, she began her career when she was even younger than the starlets mentioned above. She was just 18 when she made her screen debut as a nightclub dancer in A Hard’s Day’s Night. A couple of years later, she attracted notice as homely Lynn Redgrave’s vivacious but self-absorbed roommate in Georgy Girl. Over the next ten years, she worked steadily and was very much an “it girl,” dividing her time between films and television, and photographed nude by Helmut Newton for Vogue.

In 1974, Rampling took on what became her most infamous role, Lucia in The Night Porter. Directed and co-written by pioneering Italian director Liliana Cavani, the film focuses on a Holocaust survivor and a sadistic Nazi who resume their disturbing psychosexual relationship thirteen years after the war. Although admired as a cult classic now, The Night Porter was soundly criticized when it was released. Roger Ebert wrote that it was, “Nasty and lubricious . . . a despicable attempt to titillate us by exploiting memories of persecution and suffering.” And, The New York Times warned, “If you don’t love pain, you won’t find “The Night Porter” erotic . . . by now, even painbuffs may be satiated with Nazi decadence.” Regardless, it was certainly a brave choice by Rampling and it has affected the roles she’s been offered — and lost out on — ever since.

The actress’s personal life has been as colorful as her professional. While she and her first husband, publicist Bryan Southcombe were sharing an apartment with another man, she joked that she was in love with their roommate. Rumors of a ménage à trois have persisted ever since. A notorious affair followed, eventually leading to a second marriage to composer Jean-Michel Jarre, whom she divorced after tabloids exposed his many extramarital liaisons. More recently, her long-time partner, Jean-Noël Tassez, a media mogul with whom she was engaged, died last October.

It’s not difficult to imagine her real-life loss as you watch 45 Years, released this week on DVD and Netflix. Based on “In Another Country,” a short story by David Constantine, the film is a quiet contemplation on marriage and whether you can ever truly know another person — even if it’s the person you love.

Five years before the movie starts, Kate (Rampling) and her husband Geoff (BAFTA- and Golden Globe-winner Sir Tom Courtenay) had to cancel a big anniversary celebration because Geoff needed heart surgery. With Geoff recovered (he’s frail, but apparently out of danger), they are preparing to celebrate. The couple, childless but contentedly so, live a peaceful life in a lovely countryside with dozens of friends.

Six days before the party, Geoff receives an official notice that the body of his former lover Katya has at last been found. The two were hiking when she fell and was lost in a glacial crevasse fifty years earlier. This brings back painful memories for Geoff, but Kate is initially unconcerned. She’s always known about Katya (Kate and Geoff didn’t meet until years after the accident). She reassures him (and herself), “I can hardly be cross about something that happened before we even existed.”

But, Geoff’s behavior begins to change. He is clearly obsessed with Katya, imagining that she has been preserved in the ice, and Kate discovers that he plans to fly to Switzerland to see her. Kate starts to feel as though Katya is somehow still with them. She begins to ask questions and is eventually compelled to search through Geoff’s belongings for clues. What she discovers shakes her to the core and forces her to reexamine her own history with him. As the two finally celebrate their anniversary, it’s clear that something inside her has been shattered forever.

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  • James July 1, 2016 at 2:04 pm

    I never heard about this movie. Gonna watch it later because I know it’s worth it.