These days, not that many couples manage to stay together for forty years or celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary. The couple in this film, Kate and Geoff, do. As they were unable to celebrate their fortieth wedding anniversary because of his ill-health, operation, recovery, Kate is now busy preparing a big party to celebrate 45 years of succesful marriage.
But while everybody is counting the days to the big party, an envelope from abroad arrives with the morning post. It ensures question marks start to surface about this marriage. Geoff and Kate’s relationship may seem solid, perhaps even set and slightly stolid, but there are strong undercurrents, secrets, hidden emotions. The letter stirs everything up.
Geoff (Tom Courtenay) is forgetful and bubbles through life. The letter is related to an event which took place in his distant past. What lay buried, suddenly surfaces. Kate (Charlotte Rampling) is aware her Geoff had known some German girl, but that was over half a century ago. Moreover, the girl died in an accident.
But thanks to climate change, the girl’s body has been discovered. As Geoff, coming to terms with things remarks, the girl was perfectly preserved by ice, while he and Kate are 50 years older.
Worse: the past now starts interfering with Geoff and Kate’s future. For this letter makes clear, Geoff has not been honest about everything. Revelation after revelation, hidden emotions, passions, ensure Kate continues with the wedding anniversary – to keep up appearances.
When after roughly 95 minutes, the film shows a last shot of Kate’s face, one wonders: how long will she keep up appearances. Will she put up with the silent but undeniable presence of a ghost? Is not her situation a sick take on the Platters’ song the couple just danced upon to commemorate the dance they shared while setting out on their married life: “Smoke gets in your Eyes”.
How much smoke clouded Kate’s vision of Geoff and their marriage? She seems to have been selected as a poor substitute, right down to similar looks and a name shared with the other woman. Was her father right, decades ago? And what about that near-accident, though in Scotland, instead of the Alps?
The film is based on a short story by David Constantine: “In Another Country”. Film director Andrew Haigh, who co-wrote the script, changed the perspective and added elements. The result is not only an excellent film script, “happily married” to impressive actors acting superbly. The result is a haunting drama. Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay quite deservedly won the “Silver Bear” for best actress and for best actor at the Berlin International Film Festival, in February 2015. Andrew Haigh was rewarded during the Edinburgh Festival.
Yet, beware: if you like this kind of film you will be mesmerized, but it unfolds slowly with most of the understated acting taking place in a few rooms and with a small cast. This may heighten tension and claustrophobic atmosphere, but some in the audience started to sigh and fidget. So if you’re not that into stories where much is hinted at, implied, or suggested – and prefer fast action to psychological drama, this is not your kind of film.