Saturday, May 16, 2009

A Matter of Life and Death

A Matter of Life and Death; Fantasy comedy, UK, 1946; D: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, S: David Niven, Kim Hunter, Raymond Massey, Robert Coote

World War II. British pilot Peter talks with the radio operator June before his plane crashes and he jumps into the sea. His friend Bob dies and gets to Heaven where everything is black and white. Peter didn't have a parachute, but he survives and comes to England where he meets June. But Heaven demands that he dies as well, so it sends a French aristocrat to pick him up. But Peter refuses to die and when he tells his story to June she informs Dr. Frank to examine him. Frank concludes Peter's brain is damaged by the crash so he sends him to a hospital for an operation. But Frank dies and using his skills persuades the Other World to let Peter live with June.

This inventive tragicomedy by the Powell-Pressburger duo is still rather unknown, but it has an excellent quality. The directors are full of imaginative ideas whereas the special effects are in conformity with them, as well as with the normal romantic subplot. Already the sole opening is wonderfully satirical when it shows a "disclaimer" on the screen: "Any coincidence with real worlds in accidental" while in the amazing 2 minute long shot the camera is traveling through space until is arrives to Earth. David Niven is sympathetically portraying the protagonist, pilot Peter, while the authors cleverly build the surreal story around him, constantly playing with the two notions of whether he is really suppose to die and go to the Other World or if he is just imagining everything because of his brain injury (interestingly enough, the whole fantasy part of the story is filmed in black and white, and one scene is truly genius, the one where the camera zooms in on the flower of the French aristocrat, then color shows up when he is on Earth, and the camera then zooms out again). The finale in the form of a trial is naive and probably the film's biggest flaw, but even today some moments manage to impress with ease, like the trick where time is stopped, together with a ping-pong ball that "freezes" in the air.


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