The centerpiece of the third feature by British arthouse director Andrew Haigh is a pair of magnificent performances by veterans Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay, who convey every crack and rip in a decades-old relationship.

45 Years is how long Geoff (Courtenay) and Kate (Rampling) have been married, but it takes barely a week for their passion to melt. The trigger is the news that the body of Geoff’s former girlfriend, who died several years before during a hiking expedition, has been found intact on the slopes of Switzerland. Geoff is initially distracted and ultimately obsessed, forcing Kate to confront some uncomfortable truths about her husband and their marriage. The timing could not be worse: the couple is all set to throw a party to celebrate their 45th anniversary.

Haigh fashions a compelling and quietly rivetting drama out of the slim plot, which is based on David Constantine's short story In Another Country. The restrained observational tone and Low Crowley’s subtle camerawork reveal rich details about the couple’s personalities and quirks. (A crucial lovemaking scene has been chopped out of the Indian version.) The years of shared affection have ossified into habit, but individual differences remain, and ultimately tear them asunder.

Geoff appears to be an elderly version of the working-class angry young men who fired the screen in such 1960s British films as Saturday Night Sunday Morning. His working-class accent is at odds with Kate’s polished notes. But for all her sophistication, Kate finds herself unable to come to terms with the realisation that despite all their years together, her husband is happiest journeying into the past.

Kate’s sense of devastation and increasing desolation is perfectly contained in the sequence in which she rummages through a box of photographs of Geoff and his girlfriend, who now hovers over their marriage like an unwanted ghost. Rampling deserved a Best Actress Oscar for this scene alone.