[Essay] 45 Years: Deciphering Film Quality — Eliza Slawther

45 Years (2015) is probably not the film to watch if you’re at all feeling emotionally unstable or plagued by the overwhelming notion that life is passing you by without any real excitement or meaning, pushing you closer and closer towards the final years of being old and decrepit, stuck in a ‘marriage’ which is actually more like an arranged companionship with a stranger you’ve somehow known for years.

The film is entirely beige, a mundane sequence of clips that were so painfully realist in style that it felt more like being a fly on a wall in somebody’s house, letting their dull daily routine unfold before your eyes. There was no point during the film at which I felt excitement, anticipation, happiness, or any form of pleasure, perhaps with the exception of the beginning, which hinted that we may be in for some sweeping shots of the Swiss mountains although this never happened and was left entirely to the imagination of the viewer. Instead, the film centred around a nice (nothing more, and nothing less) house in the country, and a town which could’ve been pretty much any small English town. The acting was great, further adding to the sense of complete reality. 45 Years is not a film that romanticises losing a lover, or wistfully looking back into the past. There was little sense of nostalgia, and the sadness was less bittersweet and more just bitter.

However, the film wasn’t entirely void of purpose. The whole point of the film, as I interpret it, is to reflect the stark reality of life back at us as an audience, and not to go down the easy-viewing route of some token flashback scenes to the Swiss Alps in the 60s, portraying a man pining for Katya, the love of his life, the memories they had together and the life he never got to live with her. The film was much heavier than this, and it was as emotionally draining as Requiem For A Dream (2000), despite little to nothing actually happening. It was entirely unpretentious and conveyed its meaning perfectly. 45 Years is not a film I’d ever wish to watch again, and I felt uncomfortable whilst I was watching it, but I think that this discomfort was the point. It was so raw and provoked so much thought that I am, in a way, glad I saw it.

The film causes a strange paradox, as it both makes for utterly awful viewing and yet this is all a part of the experience. This causes it to be, in my eyes, both a terrible and brilliant film. The main problem I have with it is that whilst good cinema should make the audience feel something, whilst it should resonate in some way with the people sat watching, it shouldn’t also bore them half to sleep. The film was certainly powerful, and to an extent interesting and profound, but it wasn’t particularly ‘good’, just different from most. With this comes a personal decision to be made­—some people will absolutely love that the film was more about the sad listlessness of life, whereas some will feel it an unnecessary waste of time.
I still find that there is an inherent problem with the film, even if we do take into consideration how much of an emotional impact it has—this is that nothing about the film makes it more effective in cinema form than it would be if it were written or heard on the radio. There is a lack of memorable cinematography, a lack of the perfect composure of shots that gives cinema its punch. There is no one genre of film necessarily ‘better’ than another, but there are similarities between films considered good despite their differences in plot and style.

For instance, Empire Online includes a wide range of film genres in its “top 100 films of all time”, with the likes of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), Casino Royale (2006) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962) all making the final cut. All of these films offer a pleasurable viewing experience, great cinematography and skilled plotlines, characterisations and camera work. For me, this is what 45 Years is missing. It contains a message, its ideas resonate with the viewer, but it lacks the style, beauty and intricate subtleties that separate great cinema from the rest.

Although it is impossible to deny that the film is original and meaningful, this is still not enough for the film to deserve a high ranking.

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