CultureJew: Two Small Films Speak to the Personal and the Political

Christmas always brings a flurry of new movies, most of them well-publicized big releases. It’s easy to overlook the smaller films, but one you should pay attention to is “45 Years,” a quietly devastating portrait of a long-married couple. The highlight is the performances filmmaker Andrew Haigh coaxes from his two leads, Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay. The veteran actors manage to express so much feeling through their faces and their body language that this character study ends up being a master class in film acting.

Rampling and Courtenay, who became stars in the 1960s, play a retired English couple preparing to celebrate their forty-fifth wedding anniversary. They intended to have the party for their fortieth, but Geoff (Courtenay) suffered a heart attack and needed multiple-bypass surgery. Now Kate (Rampling) is hiring a hall, shopping for a dress, and sending out invitations to all their friends.

Kate and Geoff have the sort of genial, comfortable relationship that marks a good long-term marriage. They believe they understand each other and enjoy their calm life in the English countryside. Then Geoff receives a letter informing him that the body of his long-ago girlfriend Katya has been found on a Swiss mountain, and Kate feels a small rumble in her orderly life.  Geoff explains that he and Katya had to register as a married couple on their hiking trip back in those days, which is why he was listed as the next of kin.

That’s pretty much all that happens, but this one event–a fissure opening in a rock and revealing a body–leads to a spiral of confusing feelings in Kate, and in Geoff as well. He begins to remember details of that trip and of what Katya meant to him.. Kate senses that her husband is holding back and becomes more jealous and distressed. Both of them feel contradictory emotions–anger, regret, betrayal, suspicion, empathy, and guilt. Yet they must carry on. Haigh sensitively examines what lies beneath our domestic relationships, but it is Rampling and Courtenay that make the film exceptional. They were recognized as Best Actor and Actress at the 2015 Berlin International Film Festival, and I’d be shocked if they weren’t Oscar contenders too.

U.S.A! U.S.A!

Michael Moore is back after six years, and his latest documentary “Where to Invade Next” is a broad joke that overlays a lot of hurt and outrage. Moore’s conceit is that the U.S. needs to “invade” different countries around the world and steal their solutions to our many social problems. So, for instance, Italy provides months of paid leave to its workers, and Italian manufacturers think it’s a great idea to have their work force feeling relaxed and rested. Slovenia gives free higher education to all its citizens, and even to some American students who move for the benefit. Norway’s prison system is based on rehabilitation rather than punishment, with 23 years the maximum term even for murder. When Moore visits a Norwegian prison that looks like a prep school, he finds the residents have access to full kitchens, stocked with knives, and can leave to go to work. Portugal has legalized recreational drugs and seen usage go down. Finland has eliminated constant testing in its schools, and is now considered one of the best education systems in the world. Iceland’s economy collapsed and the response was to prosecute the errant bankers and send them to jail.

Dressed in a baseball cap and army-like jacket, Moore lumbers about Europe looking like the stereotype of an American tourist. When he visits a French primary school to share the children’s three-course freshly prepared lunch, the kids looks at him as if he was an alien from a distant planet. The boorishness is part of Moore’s shtick, of course, but it gets tiresome here. Subtlety is not his thing. Still, there’s no question that residents of many European countries have higher standards of living than most Americans. That comes as an uncomfortable surprise to Americans who never travel abroad and watch a lot of FOX News. Those who do venture out of the country see that Europeans dress better, eat better, look better, and have many more social services. We need to be reminded that much of the world has not only caught up but overtaken us, and “Where to Invade Next” should do the trick.  It’s screening in New York, and opens nationally in January.

About the Author
Miriam Rinn is currently a freelance writer based in NJ, where she has lived for several decades. She worked as a children's book editor, a freelance writer and editor, and a communications manager for a nonprofit organization. She is the author of the children's novel "The Saturday Secret," which was recently selected by PJ Our Way. She has two married sons and four granddaughters.
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