Saturday, May 16, 2009

A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, 1946, UK) In the very last moments of a young life, a British pilot falls in love with an enchanted voice before he jumps into the void, preferring to die in the English Channel’s foggy embrace than the fiery tomb of his aircraft. Due to a Celestial error, Peter Carter survives his leap of faith and is cast away upon the shore where he meets the June, the beautiful embodiment of his salvation. But the Rule of Law must be upheld and his life is to be forfeit unless he can prove that he deserves to live: he must prove that in the twenty hours of “stolen” life June has fallen in love with him. Powell and Pressburger lay on the melodrama with extra relish as the narrative hinges upon one great coincidence while the romance seems rushed and contrived. Though this threatens to shoot down the plot, a few excellent flourishes help keep the suspense aloft: Carter suffers hallucinations and his trauma is explained logically through neuroscience and psychology. In a cosmic reversal, the scenes of “reality” bleed with Technicolor life while the “other world” exists in a Riefenstahl inspired world of black and white. Though David Niven and Kim Hunter are satisfactory, it’s really Roger Livesey as Dr. Reeves who steals the film; both as surgeon and Defense Counsel. The film is imbued with a healthy dose of propaganda but the luscious cinematography and grand set designs are visually stunning, helping this romance to take flight and transcend its era. The film can be read in a different light; that his French visitor from the afterlife is nothing more than a symptom of a damaged Occipital Lobe, and his trial fantasy: after all, he is a poet and history aficionado so these elements would naturally be present in his imagination. But the grim aspect is nonetheless real: if he believes himself found guilty then he will surely die. (B)

2 comments:

Samuel Wilson said...

The trial sequence is a high point of fantasy cinema as well as an attempted vindication of Britain's place in history by the Archers. The debate between Livesy and Raymond Massey as the American revolutionary prosecutor is brilliant stuff apart from the cheap bit about U.S. jazz music. I'm glad you liked the film.

Alex DeLarge said...

I generally like their films but I thought the trial sequence slowed the narrative down and was a bit out of place...even though it was a fantastic sequence! If you get a chance to see BLACK NARCISSUS in high-definition I can't recommend it enought. And I read that RED SHOES has been remastered and is being released on Blu-ray later this year!!