27 August 2016

45 Years (starring Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay)

This isn’t a film I had heard of, but relatives had been given it, so we decided to spend an evening watching ‘45 years’. The back of the box told us that it was about a couple in Norfolk who were preparing for a party to celebrate 45 years of marriage, when a letter arrives to disrupt the husband’s peace of mind…

The letter is from someone he loved and lost nearly 50 years previously,but inevitably brings some memories back to him, and as he talks to his wife she realises he hasn’t been entirely honest with her, and becomes anxious and uncertain herself.

That’s really it, as far as the plot goes. This is not a fast-action film, nor is there really any mystery or even growth. The ending is positive, on the whole, but leaves the story open; it could go either way. The reason this film won awards is not the plot, but the way it’s made.

Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling as the couple Geoff and Kate are superb. Initially shown as comfortably and contentedly married, walking their dog, going into town, doing errands, we gradually discover that there are many depths to their marriage and to Geoff’s past. The scenery is pleasant, the pace slow but absolutely right for a character-based emotive story.

The film is divided into days, each introduced briefly, as we see Kate making preparations for the party; sufficient is shown to see that this is going to be a big occasion, but never so much that it becomes dull. The problems inherent in growing older are shown without self-pity; Geoff had a serious medical problem four years earlier which is why they are celebrating 45 years rather than 40.

I was a little puzzled about when the film was supposed to be set. Made in 2015, it mentioned 1962 as the date when Geoff’s tragedy occurred, and that he was 25 at the time. Presumably he met Kate a few years later, and I thought at first that it must be fully contemporary; much of it seems to be appropriate to current country life. Kate wears jeans, a travel agent uses a modern flat screen terminal; yet neither of the pair have mobile phones and in the scenes showing them walking through crowds of people in the town, there was not a single person staring at or using a phone, which suggests perhaps the earlier part of the 21st century.

Rated 15 (R in the United States), presumably because there is one drawn-out intimate bedroom scene; nothing explicit as such but from the dialogue and implications it’s clear what is going on. There’s no violence or smoking or nudity, and only a few instances of bad language; however, I can’t imagine that the storyline would be of the slightest interest to children, or indeed anyone under the age of about forty.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's DVD Reviews

14 August 2016

Children of a Lesser God (starring William Hurt and Marlee Matlin)

I doubt if I would ever have come across this film, which was made in the mid-1980s, had it not been for the recommendation of a friend. I put it on my wishlist and was given it some time ago; we finally decided to watch it at the weekend and found it mesmerising…

‘Children of a lesser god’ is set in a school for the deaf and hard of hearing in the United States. A new speech teacher, James (William Hurt) has just been appointed. His job is to encourage students, mostly teenagers, to be motivated to use language even though they cannot hear and to find reasons for doing so. His methods are somewhat unorthodox but he quickly becomes popular, at least with the teenagers he is working with.

It doesn’t take him long to notice Sarah (Marlee Matlin), a young woman in her twenties who is working as a cleaner. He learns that she was herself a pupil at the school some years previously, but that despite being highly intelligent she preferred to stay on to work at the school in a menial role rather than venture out elsewhere to study or work. He also discovers that she does not speak or lip-read, and is determined to find out why…

The story is essentially a love story between two very different people but it’s also, for the era, quite a thought-provoking and sensitive look into ways in which society looks askance at those who suffer from a disability. Sarah gradually reveals her rather sordid past, and her fear of failure, or of being considered stupid; James gradually realises that he needs to adjust to those whose needs are not the same as his.

The acting is excellent, the settings believable, the dialogue crisp, and the story moved at just the right pace for our tastes. I was a little surprised that there were no subtitles for some of the very rapid signing, although in most cases a ‘hearing’ person translates; but perhaps that was deliberate, to show a little of how deaf people feel when in the presence of those who are speaking rapidly without looking at them.

Marlee Matlin in particular was brilliant in the role of Sarah, with a very expressive face that communicated as much as words could have done. The actress is herself deaf, and this was her debut film role, for which she won a well-deserved Academy award for Best Actress.

The film is rated R in the United States, for several instances of ‘strong’ language, and implied nudity and intimacies; however it’s rated 15 in the UK and as young as 12 in some other countries. It’s not the kind of story that’s likely to be of interest to anyone under the age of about 14 or 15 anyway, in my view, but is certainly worth watching by anyone wanting to know a little more about attitudes to those with hearing difficulties.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's DVD Reviews