Writer-director Andrew Haigh was editing his film, Weekend, when he received a collection of short stories. The David Constantine story In Another Country particularly struck him. It centers on a British couple as they prepare to celebrate their 45th anniversary. Something from the husband's past comes to light and casts a shadow on the celebration.
Haigh thought it would make a good film and wrote a screenplay based on the story. The resulting movie, 45 Years, debuted in the U.K. last year; it opens at the Cedar Lee Theatre on Friday. It focuses on Kate Mercer's (Charlotte Rampling) discovery that Geoff (Tom Courtenay) was once engaged to a woman who dies in a hiking accident.
"Weirdly, the more you're in a relationship, the harder it can be to talk about certain things because you have more to risk," says Haigh via phone from Los Angeles where he's editing the finale of Looking, the HBO series about gay friends living in San Francisco. "If you don't talk about these things in the early formation of the relationship, it becomes very, very difficult. You define yourself in those early days."
Haigh describes the film as "an existential crisis movie." The flick, however, has a twist because it involves two elderly people. And Haigh emphasizes the female perspective.
"Of course, a woman can have an existential crisis too," he says. "I found it was interesting that [the discovery] was something that hadn't happened to her, and yet it was unraveling her whole life. The things that disrupt the understanding of ourselves can come from very strange, unknown places that don't make sense and shouldn't be a threat but end up threatening things."
The film features terrific performances by both Rampling, who was recently nominated for an Oscar, and Courtenay.
"They bring so much to the film," says Haigh. "It's the first time I've worked with actors of that kind of experience. There's a lot of silence in the film. You need people who can express themselves physically through their eyes and gestures. You want somebody to bring the story to life. Both of them did that for me beautifully."
He says he intended to make a movie about senior citizens that doesn't sentimentalize the subject matter.
"Whenever there are older people in films, they're used for comic effects or they don't treat it seriously," he says. "There's this notion that once you reach the age of 50, everything is set in stone and sorted. That doesn't make any sense to me. The older people I know aren't like that and I don't feel like I will become like that. It was important to me that they're two people searching for the answers. In many respects, the older you get, the more important that search becomes because you're getting close to the end." — Jeff Niesel