A Matter of Life and Death (1946)


Powell and Pressburger direct David Niven, Kim Hunter and Roger Livesey in this tale of an RAF pilot who misses his death and falls in love during the extra day of life he gains.

Just magical. The stiff upper lift acting of all involved (Niven especially has never been quite so good elsewhere) makes this feel like a love letter found in an ancient treasure chest. Powell and Pressburger play mischievously with monochrome and technicolor, the intimate and the infinite. They are never more than a scene away from an indelible piece of imagery. Their bureaucratic (rationing and ministry era) vision of heaven is economically achieved yet stunningly believable. The plot itself shifts with narrative dexterity; one minute we are quoting poetry in the battle worn cockpit of a Lancaster (like something from a James Cameron film if The King of the World did verse) next we are viewing village life through a camera obscura… then an amateur Shakespeare rehearsal takes place while key philosophical issues are being discussed and culminating in a celestial courtroom where the lead couple barely appear. Utter madness yet never indulgent. The rule book for cinematic storytelling is torn up, then torn up again. The beautiful tatters make a romance classic. This is vibrant, experimental, captivating stuff.


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