The film opens to a tar black screen with only the sound of the hiss and whirr of a slide projector. It is a prophetic sound the meaning of which becomes apparent later in the film. Then we have the classic establishing shot, a house set in rural England in the middle distance where a woman is walking her dog. The woman is Kate (Charlotte Rampling) who we see cross the fields before exiting the farmland via a gate then turning back home with her Alsatian in tow.
It is a deceptively simple film which uses silence as much as it does dialogue. Spaces are filled by the code of body language, of faces held in emotional turmoil. Tom Courtney, who plays Geoff, has such a natural method with an instinctive awareness of not only what to say but how to deliver his lines so they sound as if he has improvised them on the spot, as though he hasn't memorised a set of lines but is actually struggling to articulate what it is he feels, what he needs to be say.
‘I didn’t know him but it was vital that Tom and I feel a profound connection, and you have to believe they are intimately involved in each other.’
The intimacy portrayed feels natural. I felt not so much a fly on the wall but a part of the furniture observing events that are taking place in real time.
As the couple are about to celebrate their forty fifth anniversary a letter arrives for Tom. It carries news that his first love Katya's body has finally been found. Long entombed within a glacial fissure her body, having been frozen, has been perfectly preserved for the past fifty three years.
The news rekindles Tom's memories bringing to mind what might have been. How his life may have taken a different course than the one he has had with Kate. For Kate it feels like a form of betrayal. She feels as though she has spent their marriage forever in the shadow of she who went before her.
This is a subtle film nuanced by distinctions in expression; by highly believable narrative and by dialogue that shifts as it shuffles through an absence of sound that lingers long before a clipped response breaks the silence.
It is those moments when speech is left idle that a weight and variety of possible emotions bear down on the viewer. The strained atmosphere speaks volumes. You intuitively know the thoughts of each of the central two characters as they stand before you.
The direction ensures things are kept as natural as possible. Whether the shared scenes of the couple in their home or when among a crowd of people, the film never feels managed in anyway. It moves at a seemingly pedestrian pace but that is its greatest deceit and its greatest achievement.
From the opening of the letter to the close of the film, a week has passed and in that week a lifetimes hurts, doubts, recriminations surface.
The emotions examined are those of a long married couple who struggle to maintain their relationship unearths a long forgotten, or in Kate's case, unknown love.
The highlight of the film for me is when Kate ascends the loft ladder to sit and watch the slides taken fifty odd years before. Charlotte Rampling's acting leaves all superlatives redundant. She watches those ancient scenes as if witnessing a crime committed. And I swear the slides show a Katya who was pregnant on the day of her death.
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.