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Can British film ’45 Years’ become the next ‘Exotic Marigold Hotel’?

Tom Courtenay, left, and director Andrew Haigh, with the film, "45 Years," are photographed in the L.A. Times photo studio at the Toronto Film Festival,.

Tom Courtenay, left, and director Andrew Haigh, with the film, “45 Years,” are photographed in the L.A. Times photo studio at the Toronto Film Festival,.

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Last year, Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” moved audiences with its textured look at a young man growing up in Texas. Spanning more than a decade, the film was the ultimate in slow-cook drama, its time parceled out with neat ‎measuring spoons.

But “Boyhood” looks like a whizbang telenovela compared with Andrew Haigh’s “45 Years,” which, title notwithstanding, encapsulates a week in the life of an older couple and is paced with an almost metabolic deliberativeness. Even the relatively few plot developments are hinted at rather than blurted out.

“We really worked out how we give you enough so you know what’s happening,” Haigh said after a screening at the Toronto International Film Festival. “But if you give too much it falls apart and doesn’t have a resonant effect.”

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Haigh’s new drama, which made its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Tuesday ahead of its release in December (by “Boyhood” distributor IFC), follows Kate and Geoff (Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay) as they make plans for their 45th wedding anniversary. Seemingly happy in small-town retirement, Kate learns early that an old flame of Geoff’s has died - -and that said flame may have been more to Geoff than he’d previously let on.

What follows is less a series of revelations and recriminations -- the usual mode for films of this type -- but a careful process of discovery and subtle unease. Kate rarely screams accusations and Geoff certainly doesn’t fire back defenses, but the couple’s jockeying can be felt in every increasingly tense moment of their dynamic. Exactly what happened with the ex is important, but not nearly as important as the shadow of distrust it casts over the marriage -- particularly for Kate, who begins to question much of what she thought she knew. This is a work very consciously devoid of fireworks--a movie, in effect, that works very hard to make it look easy.

Courtenay said at the screening that he was helped by Haigh’s unlikely method of shooting mostly in sequence, which allowed him to keep a bead on the marriage’s degradation.

Both he and Rampling have been lauded for their performance, with the latter already generating Oscar talk even in what is shaping up as a deep field for lead actresses. (She has never been nominated for an Oscar; he’s been shortlisted twice.) But despite the nuanced friction -- call it anti-chemistry -- between the pair, Courtenay said that the authenticity began much earlier

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“People have said [to me and Rampling], ‘You both make something out of not very much.’ And I can assure you that’s not the case,” he said. “When I read the script it was all there. You can’t make bricks without straw.”

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Haigh previously directed “Weekend,” a well-regarded gay drama that tracks a pair of young male strangers who share a brief but intense romance. As the filmmaker noted after the screening, this piece is a bookend of sorts to that tale of early curiosity -- a gaze from the other end, of what happens when people spend decades together and find there are still new and awkward truths to be uncovered about the other.

Haigh also sees the film, which he based on a short story by David Constantine, as correcting a gender imbalance. “There’s so much in books about men’s existential breakdowns. The fact that women don’t have them makes no sense to me,“ he said.

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“45 Years” will remind some of another British movie with a calendar-themed title -- Mike Leigh’s “Another Year” -- and comes in the vein of the growing subgenre that might be described as elder-reconciliation dramas. (Other entries include “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” “Grandma,” “A Walk In the Woods” and the granddaddy, as it were, of the form, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” which generated dollars, imitators and a sequel after hitting theaters in 2012.)

But Haigh also has something broader on his mind: the tilting perspectives of a relationship no matter the age of its participants. Though appearing diametrical, Kate and Geoff may simply be two sides of a coin.

“They’re all versions of me,” he said. “I’m both sides of the argument. I’m just trying to find a way to explore [the same terrain via] two different characters.”

Twitter: @ZeitchikLAT

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