Like many DIY movements before it, Mumblecore opened up a lot of filmmakers to permission and possibilities—giving them the galvanizing necessary push to say to themselves, “Hey, I can do that!” Thank god, English filmmaker Andrew Haigh listened to that voice in his head (to be fair, he was already working in the industry, but you get the point). The filmmaker’s auspicious career started in the lo-fi DIY world (2009’s “Greek Pete”), and by his sophomore effort, the 48-hour romance interlude film “Weekend”—a strikingly authentic look at a gay male hookup which turns into something more— which caught fire at SXSW in 2011, the writer/director’s career was cemented.
Haigh then parlayed the “Weekend” cache he earned into “Looking,” a similar exploration of gay male romantic relationships only turned into a series on HBO that ran for two seasons between 2014–2016. When he returned to feature-length filmmaking in 2015 with “45 Years,” the constant filmmaking—he nearly directed all of the two seasons aside from some help in season two—his already-considered craft was impeccably honed.
“45 Years” is an emotionally devastating work, a beautifully subtle character study, and one that earned lead actress Charlotte Rampling the very first Academy Award of her illustrious career. Co-starring another living legend, Tom Courtney (“Billy Liar”), “45 Years,” was and is a deeply mature effort that earned Haigh the best accolades and reviews of his career (and for my money, it was the best film of 2015).
“45 Years” centers on a married couple (Rampling and Courtney) preparing to celebrate their wedding anniversary and the shattering news from the past that promises to forever change their lives. It’s essentially an unraveling, told in the form of a thriller that ticks down the days to their wedding anniversary celebration, but it’s also about how our lives are often a glued-together collage of mistakes, patched over. In this case, a minor crack in the façade of a marriage eventually turns into a massive, irreparable fissure and its immaculately told and masterfully performed by its two legendary leads.
“45 Years” started streaming on the Criterion Channel on Thursday. The streaming presentation also features the Blu-ray extras, audio commentary featuring Haigh and interviews with Rampling, Courtenay, Haigh, and more. To mark the occasion—and to revive a dormant series that seems perfect to resurrect during the age of quarantine— we briefly connected with Haigh to resurrect our The Movies That Changed My Life features. More from this restored series soon.
What’s the first movie that you remember seeing in the theater?
It was ‘The Secret of NIMH” and my mum had won free tickets to see it at the Odeon West End in London. I don’t remember the film other than it’s about a mouse. We went for a ‘Wimpy’ afterward (a U.K. version of McDonald’s) but the Coke I ordered was just carbonated water. I remember that disappointment more than the movie.
The best moviegoing film experience you ever had.
With “45 Years” we were invited to Bergman Week on the island of Faro and I got to see “Persona” in Bergman’s personal cinema. There are no more than twenty seats and his spot is always kept free. It was an extraordinary experience.
The first film you saw that made you realize you wanted to be a filmmaker.
I know that Nicolas Roeg‘s “Don’t Look Now” had a profound effect on me. I rented it from the video shop when I was 15 and watched it three times in a row. There was something so mesmerizing about the tone — terrifying and sensual at the same time.
The first film you saw that you realize you could be a filmmaker.
The idea of becoming a filmmaker seemed impossible so it took some time. I worked at London’s National Film Theatre (now the BFI) as an usher and that became my film education. Sometimes you would see three films a day, anything from Michelangelo Antonioni or John Cassavetes to an obscure lesbian fetish film. Later on, I saw Joe Swanberg‘s “Nights and Weekends” and Aaron Katz‘s “Quiet City” at a festival in London. That was a critical moment for me. I realized making a film was not impossible.
The movie that always makes you cry.
“Beautiful Thing.” It’s about two gay teenagers on an estate in London. When I saw it in the cinema everyone applauded at the end which is still rare in the U.K. I sat there crying like a baby and came out of the closet a few months later. Whenever I watch it now, it still makes me cry.
The movie that always freaks you out/makes you scared.
There are so many moments that freak me the fuck out, but the homeless man behind the dumpster in “Mulholland Drive” is tough to beat.
The film you’ve rewatched more than any other.
[Colin Higgins’] “9 to 5.” I’ve probably watched it 200 times. I watched it throughout my teenage years, sometimes twice a day. I can’t explain why I loved it so much.
The movie you love that no one would expect you to love.
I guess “9 to 5” again. I met Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin a year ago and for my teenage self, it was the happiest day of my life.
The movie that defined your childhood.
“Watership Down.” All of my existential terror comes from that film.
“45 Years” is available on the Criterion Channel now.