Saturday, February 14, 2009

BRIEF ENCOUNTER (David Lean, 1945, UK) Laura’s still life of static routine and dull affection is enlightened by the lustful beacon of a momentary affair, which is soon dimmed in a tumultuous emotional storm: she and her paramour must follow their heart…or their duty. Director David Lean’s stark settings and chiaroscuro cinematography lend an illicit and mysterious riptide to the brief encounters: he turns a non-descript coffee shop into a den of unspoken sin, the dark station’s platform into a stage where they must act out their superficial roles, while underneath passion rages barely controlled and acknowledged, and a friend’s apartment into a sacrificial bed of vice and flirtatious torment. The elliptical story begins with Laura and Alec being interrupted by a boisterous and talkative acquaintance, and their heartfelt disbelief and loss isn’t fully understood until the final act. Laura stumbles home to her loving and doting husband, tucks in her children, and sits by the fire imagining her confession, purging herself of a month’s worth of guilt. Laura has fallen in love with Alec, a doctor whom she serendipitously meets at the train station on her regular Thursday afternoon escape from familial bonds, and they quickly form a friendship that surpasses innocence and platonic fondness. Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard are excellent as their characters share furtive glances, or hold on a touching smile, until they finally kiss under the spotlight of rigid middle class mores. Their love is not an excuse for a hardened home life or abusive spouses: it is obvious that Laura is very much adored by her husband and Alec has a very nice and attractive wife. This is the heartbreaking story of two people who should have met at another time, another place, and created a life together…but now it is not meant to be. Lean’s compositions are excellent as he films their first kiss then dissolves to Laura’s far-off stare, their passion briefly superimposed upon her sitting across from her husband who is absorbed in his crossword puzzle. The two lovers are bereft of a final goodbye and Laura dashes towards the platform, the thick steam choking the dreary night, and in a sharp flash of instinct pulls herself from that fatal attempt, to ultimately be embraced by her husband who thanks her for coming home. (A)

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