Monday, September 08, 2003

A Matter of Life and Death

Dir: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, 1946

JAMES says:

Certainly one of the greatest films of all time, this is one of those films that, no matter how many times I watch it, I still feel all warm and emotional at the end. In fact, I’m crying now just thinking about it. Not really. The plot, without giving too much away, involves a British airman (David Niven) being shot down over the channel during the war. He is due to have died, but the agent sent to collect him, being French, messed the whole thing up. By the time he’s caught up with, he has fallen in love with a comely American nurse, and doesn’t really want to go to heaven yet. So it all goes to trial. Then it turns out that machines rule the earth, and that the airman himself is the murderer. It’s a fantasy, but it’s the details that impress.

Sure, it’s settled, and a little sentimental, but it’s an honest sentiment not seen in big budget films that much these days. Back in those days, in the immediate post war years, there was an optimism and a feeling that anything was possible, hence this love conquers all storyline. It’s a film where you have to leave your cynicism at home, and just enjoy. I’ve just realised how girly this is all making me sound. Well, heck, I just don’t care. You want post-modern cynicism, go and see ‘Peeping Tom’, also directed by Enoch Powell. This is one to touch the heart.

It has a few duff moments. The heavenly trial for some reason descends into which is better, Britain or America, and it is all a bit unfair to one of the characters. But, the sets and the set-pieces more than make up for this. The view of Heaven, to which Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey is clearly indebted to, the celestial staircase, the colonel from M*A*S*H, it’s got it all. And it proves once and for all that God is English.

This is less a film, more a work of art, of the type seen in the National Gallery. Superbly rendered by masters of their class, and not as shocking as anything in the Tate Modern, but more satisfying on a basic level.


Buy on Amazon: A Matter Of Life And Death [1946]

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