READ MORE: James Franco’s Other Movies Columns in 2015
This is a column where James Franco talks to his reverse self, Semaj,
about new films. Rather than a conventional review, it is a place where
James and Semaj can muse about ideas that the films provoke. James
loves going to the movies and talking about them, but a one-sided take
on a movie, in print, might be misconstrued as a review. As someone in
the industry it could be detrimental to James’s career if he were to
review his peers, because unlike the book industry — where writers
review other writer’s books — the film industry is highly collaborative,
and a bad review of a peer could create problems. So, assume that James
(and Semaj) love all these films. What they’re interested in talking
about is all the ways the films inspire them, and make them think. James
is me, and Semaj is the other side of me. —James Franco
James: So what is this film?
Semaj: It’s meditation on aging.
James: That’s interesting, I guess.
Semaj: It actually is interesting. We all age. You shouldn’t discount it as a subject for a film. Just because the characters are dealing with issues that you might not deal with for another 45 years doesn’t mean you won’t like it.
James: Well, that’s exactly what the movie is about, right? An event that happened 45 years in the past has now come back to haunt an elderly couple.
Semaj: Not just any elderly couple — the woman is Charlotte “The Night Porter” Rampling.
James: Oh shit, topless in suspenders.
James: She’s awesome. She was in that autobiographical Woody Allen movie.
James: Ha, ha. The other one.
Semaj: Why do you say, “ha ha”?
James: Because he dates a high school girl in that, Mariel Hemingway, and I thought you were making a joke about Woody dating younger women.
Semaj: No. I just meant, aren’t all his movies autobiographical?
James: Well, anyway, it’s “Stardust Memories.” Where he defends himself against all his critics who were mad because he had made “Interiors,” and it was a drama, and was very different than his early comedies like “Bananas” and “Sleepers.”
Semaj: Sounds like when Dylan went electric. People get pissed when they think they own you, or they identify with one thing you do and then you change it up.
James: Speaking of changing, Charlotte Rampling is very different in “45 Years” — her performance in this film is unlike any I’ve seen her give.
Semaj: What do you mean? She’s very naturalistic in this movie.
James: Exactly! Usually she seems like she’s this mysterious being from another world, as if she is walking around earth while her brain is stuck somewhere in outer space.
Semaj: I like that quality. And it’s just because of how her eyes look, they’re wild and deep, and don’t seem to focus on anything, but that doesn’t mean that she’s actually a space case.
James: I can see that. But in “45 Years,” she is definitely the grounded one, her husband is the loony tune.
Semaj: Yeah, he’s stuck in the past. And he bobs around making a mess of things in their relationship.
James: What do you mean he “bobs around”?
Semaj: I mean that actor, Tom Courtenay, he literally bobs around every scene.
James: He was in “The Dresser” and “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner.”
Semaj: What are those?
James: British classics. He was also in “Leonard Part 6” with Bill Cosby.
James: So he’s the one who’s threatening the relationship, because he can’t get over an old relationship he had.
Semaj: Spoiler alert.
James: Well, they lay out the issues in the first ten minutes of the film: They’re planning their anniversary, the big 45 years, I think…
Semaj: Makes sense.
James: Well, I wasn’t sure if the 45 years of the title referred to the number of years they’ve been married, or how long it’s been since the husband’s former lover died.
Semaj: Probably the anniversary. Just saying. I don’t think the movie would be called “45 Years” if they were about to celebrate their forty-third anniversary.
James: Okay, smart guy, whatever. We learn that the Courtenay character’s previous girlfriend died mysteriously on a hike with him and a guide they called “Kerouac.”
Semaj: They called him “Kerouac” in a derisive way, because the husband always hated Kerouac’s writing.
James: Yeah, I guess he’s a snobby kind of guy who reads Kierkegaard.
Semaj: Only two chapters. Rampling busts him for always starting Kierkegaard and never finishing it.
James: Okay, so he’s a fake snob. Anyway, his old girlfriend died on the hike with “Kerouac,” and a week before his anniversary with Charlotte, he gets word that the former girlfriend’s bones have been found, and it starts him and Charlotte down the road of questioning their relationship all before the big celebration.
Semaj: Okay, so you’ve laid it out. It sounds so simple when you say it that way.
James: It is simple. But the movie isn’t about plot complexity, it’s about the complexity of human emotions. Over the week leading up to the celebration of their lives together, we follow the nuances of their shifting desires, and miniature heart breaks as more is revealed about the past.
Semaj: It’s actually a very universal story about love and loyalty. In some ways, it’s incidental that the characters are older.
James: True, but I think their age does play a pretty big part because they’re assessing the culmination of their lives, as people might do when they’re facing less life before them than has been put behind them.
Semaj: Okay, fine, but I’m just saying that revived feelings for a former lover could happen with a couple of any age. I certainly can relate.
James: Oh, really?
Semaj: Well, I mean, sort of.
James: Who are you still longing for?
Semaj: I don’t know. No one. I just mean it’s a relatable situation.
James: Of course it is. But it’s intensified by the fact that these two are coming to the end of a long life together and what they’re questioning is a 45-year journey, the value of it, the sincerity of it, and deciding if the relationship will continue until death do they part.
Semaj: Yeah. In some ways it reminded me of Michael Haneke’s “Amour.”
James: Why? Just because they’re old?
Semaj: Yeah, maybe. I mean the Courtenay character really does seem like he needs taking care of, as if he were not just questioning the major relationship of his life, but is actually falling apart as a human being.
James: Hmmmm, you mean that he bobs around.
Semaj: Yeah, I guess. He seems unstable. And yes, it reminds me of “Amour” because they’re older. They’re testing the strength of their lifelong commitment to each other as they enter the last chapters of their lives.
James: It was nicely shot.
Semaj: Yeah, long takes that let the actors just perform.
James: And some super wide vista shots.
Semaj: Can you believe that Andrew Haigh, the guy who directed “Weekend” and produced the show “Looking” on HBO, directed this?
James: Wait, wait, wait. What the fuck? That amazing film about two guys falling for each other over the course of a weekend?
James: Wow. Okay. Well, “45 Years” is very different.
Semaj: It is and it isn’t. Like I was saying, it’s a universal story about love. Who the characters are — and how old they are — doesn’t really matter.
“45 Years” opens Wednesday, December 23.