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“What goes on beneath the surface in a relationship”

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Andrew Haigh • Director


- BERLIN 2015: British director Andrew Haigh talks about 45 Years, screened in competition at Berlin

Andrew Haigh  • Director

Accompanied by his lead actors Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay, and his producer Tristan Goligher, British director Andrew Haigh talked to the international media after the world premiere of his third feature film, 45 Years [+see also:
film review
film focus
Q&A: Andrew Haigh
film profile
, presented in competition at the 65th Berlinale. Here are some selected highlights.

Where did the inspiration for the story in 45 Years come from?
Andrew Haigh: It goes back six years, with a short story a few pages long that included the basis of an interesting plot that I stretched out in order to create the film as it is today. But what interested me most was to explore a relationship, one that has lasted for a long time, with its difficulties that lie beneath the surface. We manifest desire, whether it is sexual or romantic, in the way we communicate with the other person, and it greatly influences the ensemble of our lives. Desire evolves, and it takes on different meanings as time passes. It is a fascinating part of our human nature and a passionate subject.

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Transforming a short story into a feature film is no easy task; how did you go about it?
It was a long process. For example, in the short story, there was no wedding anniversary celebration, and the two main characters were in their 80s, not in their 60s like in the film. There was a tremendous adaptation process. What I tried to do was replicate the intimacy and closeness as much as possible. Afterwards, we spent a lot of time with the actors to establish that relationship.

Did you have Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay in mind while writing the screenplay?
No. When I’m writing, I prefer not to be thinking about any specific actor. When I began drafting the screenplay, I hadn’t even produced my previous film, Weekend, so it was unfathomable to even think of such high-calibre actors. When the screenwriting was over and we began looking for funds, Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay quickly came to mind, and they were soon a part of the project. And as for the particular subject of the film, they could contribute the experience of their long-standing careers.

You decide to abandon homosexual scenarios in this film, contrary to Weekend, and the TV series for HBO, Looking. How come?
It was never my intention to limit my narrative only to gay or queer cinema. But there are a lot of similarities between 45 Years and Weekend because it is the complexity of human relationships that interests me. From this point of view, the film is a sequel to Weekend, even though the characters are older and heterosexual. Of course, Weekend was about a relationship that had just begun, whereas here we are almost at the end of the road 45 years later, but what is interesting is how the relationship continues in relation to its defining beginnings. This film, for instance, leaves many things unsaid because in a relationship it’s very easy to not speak, to not tell your partner what is really going on in the depths of your heart. 45 Years is about what happens when all of those things break the surface. This film goes into the struggle between two characters to understand what their love means, and it is not clear for either of them. There is a critical and profound look at their existence, there is a feeling of existential loss, confusion in what they want, unstable emotions, and feelings of guilt. All these factors pile onto Kate’s character. Geoff’s character remembers his past without us knowing what is true and what isn’t. It is very easy to romanticise the past when he looks back and imagines that he was brave and the world was his oyster when he was young, that he could have changed the world instead of ending up in a house in Norfolk, where he has lived for the last 30 years with his wife.

Why did you choose this region for the film setting?
It’s always important that the setting matches the characters’ inner life. I wanted a town that no one knew about and looked just like any other. Norfolk is a place that symbolically corresponded to the characters’ situation: a deserted landscape, flat and endless, no hills, just emptiness. This contrasted with the life that Geoff and Katia had in the Swiss mountains.

(Translated from French)

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