Thursday, December 27, 2007

It's a Wonderful Life

It's a Wonderful Life; fantasy drama, USA, 1946; D: Frank Capra, S: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Henry Travers, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, Beulah Bondi, Ward Bond, Gloria Grahame

Angels in the shape of Galaxies observe the life of the kind George Bailey: as a young kid, he saved the life of his brother who fell into a lake, but remained deaf on one ear. When his father Peter died he had to take over his building and loan business in order to save the company, even though his own dream was to go to the city. He got married to Mary and they had four children, but was always in conflict with the evil tycoon Potter who wanted to buy the city and make it poor. When his uncle Billy looses 8,000 $ from the deposit, George loses hope in everything and thinks his whole life is a failure. He decides to commit suicide on Christmas by jumping off the bridge, but gets saved by angel Clarence who shows him how the world would look like without him. George changes his mind and his friends gather enough money for him.

Considered by many to be the ultimate Christmas film, "It's a Wonderful Life" is a quality made story of sacrifice, pain and joy at the end typical for those kind of optimistic films, even though it has a messy - or should we say experimental? - structure and unusual eccentricity. Already the exposition is strange since the camera pans above the Moon and shows two angels in the shape of Galaxies observing the life of the kind George Bailey (James Stewart in a role of a lifetime), while some destined tragedies seem pathetic and kitschy. Still, Capra cares for his characters by giving them a humane and humorous touch and has a clever style: the scene in which George and Mary fall into a pool during a ball but just continue to dance in the water causing everyone else to join them is equally fun as the one where the two of them ask themselves if they are "talking too much", while some third person yells: "Yes!" The fantasy part of the story comes very late in the story (some 100 minutes into the film!) and consists of the angel Clarence showing the hero who wanted to commit suicide on Christmas how the world would have looked like without him, which became one of the icons of movie history, getting imitated a thousand times and definitely catapulting the film into a classic. After all the bitter misadventures of the protagonist, the movie end with a catharsis, as a pleasant and skillful ode to love and life, even though some cynics might add that it is a too idealistic solution since it could have never happened in some Third World country, while others perceived it as subtly pessimistic since it shows that only a divine intervention could help the hero in the flawed society run by the rich.


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