Tuesday, April 16, 2013
A Matter of Life and Death
Written and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, A Matter of Life and Death is the story of an airman who survives death as he falls for an American radio operator while angels are trying to get him to the other side. Set during World War II, the film is an exploration into a man facing and cheating death while trying to continue his life without compromise. Starring David Niven, Kim Hunter, Roger Livesay, Marius Goring, and Raymond Massey. A Matter of Life and Death is an extraordinarily rich film from Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.
The film is about a man who had just survived a near-death experience as his bomber plane crashed where he jumped off his plane without a parachute. While he was on his plane, he communicates with an American radio operator where the two fall for each other as they eventually meet and become a couple. For the people in Heaven, they realize the man was supposed to die as they send an angel (Marius Goring) to meet with the man to tell him he’s supposed to be in Heaven. The angel gives the man time while Dr. Frank Reeves (Roger Livesay) examines the man as he would defend him in a trial to see if this man should stay alive or be sent to Heaven. It’s a film about life and death as well as the power of love where the people from above are to see if this man in Peter Carter (David Niven) should stay alive to fall in love with the American woman June (Kim Hunter).
The film’s screenplay explores the world of life and the afterlife where Peter Carter has accidentally cheated death where angels and those in the afterlife question should Peter Carter fulfill what has been expected him in life or should he continue to go on living? Yet, the people in Heaven didn’t expect for Peter and June to fall for each other in a moment like this as they send this French aristocratic angel to talk with Peter about what he should do. Dr. Frank Reeves listens to Peter talking about his meeting with the angels as he believes there is more to something that is beyond anything. Yet, he would play a crucial role into defending Peter in front of the people of the afterlife as he has to face a jury that despise the British led by its American prosecutor Abraham Farlan (Raymond Massey). What would happen in the third act is a trial for the life of a man as Peter would also face a judge and jury to see if he deserves to stay alive.
The direction of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger is definitely out of this world in terms of what they presented. Notably as they go for two very different approaches to life on Earth and the afterlife where the former is presented in gorgeous Technicolor and the latter is presented in black-and-white. The direction is often filled with a sense of style from the sense of danger that is presented in the opening moments of the film where Peter is flying his bomber plane as he talks to June. A lot of the scenes set on Earth do have some degree of style in some of its location shots as well as a scene of Dr. Reeves looking out at the town through a magnifying table. Other stylish shots in the film are the conversations between Peter and the angel where everything around them stops while the people who aren’t Peter or the angel stay still.
The scenes set in Heaven are very stylized in the set pieces that is created where there are things the dead have to do once they arrive in Heaven. There is a sense of control that occurs while the trial scene itself is filled with some wide shots to establish the scope of the case in hand. There is also the staircase scenes that is presented in black-and-white but also in color to establish the link between the two worlds. The third act is about the two worlds colliding to set the fate for Peter Carter as where some big decisions occur as well as the idea of life itself. Overall, Powell and Pressburger create a magnificent story about life and the power of love.
Cinematographer Jack Cardiff does exquisite work with the film‘s beautiful photography from the wonderful look of the scenes in Heaven shot in black-and-white with some amazing lighting schemes to the lush Technicolor look of the scenes on Earth from the look of the British countryside to some of the interiors in the film as Cardiff‘s work is a major highlight of the film. Editor Reginald Mills does excellent work with the film‘s editing with the use of abrupt cuts to play out some of the strange things that are happening around Peter to the use of freeze-frames and other stylish cuts to help give the film a brisk pace. Production designer Alfred Junge does amazing work with the set pieces from the look of the staircase to the look of Heaven itself as it is a work of beauty.
Costume designer Hein Heckroth does wonderful work with the costumes to play up some of its coloring in the scenes on Earth while keeping things simple and stylish for the scenes in Heaven. The special effects work by Douglas Woolsey and Henry Harris is terrific for its use of optical effects to create some look of the universe as well as the backgrounds for the staircase scenes. Sound recorder C.C. Stevens does nice work with the sound to create sound effects for the film‘s opening sequence of Peter‘s plane crumbling as well as some intimate moments between characters as well as the scenes where sound isn‘t used. The film’s music by Allan Gray is superb for its lush orchestral score to play out the drama and some of its humor through some sweeping string arrangements and a few bombastic moments in the percussions.
The film’s cast is brilliant as it features some small appearances from Richard Attenborough as an English pilot who arrives to Heaven, Abraham Sofaer as Heaven’s judge and the surgeon performing surgery for Peter, Robert Coote as Peter’s deceased co-pilot Bob Trubshawe, and Kathleen Byron as the head angel who greets the dead to Heaven. Raymond Massey is excellent as Abraham Farlan who believes that Peter should die and be sent to Heaven while Marius Goring is marvelous as the very charming French aristocrat who has become an angel as he tries to get Peter to Heaven while realizing the severity of the situation. Roger Livesay is superb as Dr. Frank Reeves as a man who believes Peter’s stories as he tries to help him in every way while finding himself in a situation of his own where he can play a crucial role in Peter’s trial.
Kim Hunter is remarkable as June as an American woman who falls for Peter through their radio conversation while trying to wonder what is wrong with him as she turns to Dr. Reeves for help. David Niven is fantastic as Peter Carter as a man who had just experienced a near-death experience as well as love as he realizes his fate is in the hands of people beyond him as he tries to comprehend the idea of life itself.
A Matter of Life and Death is an incredible film from Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Armed with a great ensemble cast that includes David Niven, Kim Hunter, Roger Livesay, Raymond Massey, and Marius Goring as well as Jack Cardiff’s rapturous cinematography. It’s a film that explores the idea of life itself as well as how a man can put his own life in the hands of other to see if he should live. It’s also a film about the power of love and how strong it can be for a man’s fate. In the end, A Matter of Life and Death is a tremendous film from Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.
Powell/Pressburger Films: The Spy is Black - (The Lion Has Wings) - Contraband - (An Airman’s Letter to His Mother) - 49th Parallel - One of Our Aircraft is Missing - The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp - (The Volunteer) - A Canterbury Tale - I Know Where I‘m Going! - Black Narcissus - The Red Shoes - The Small Black Room - (Gone to Earth) - The Tales of Hoffman - (Oh… Rosalinda!!!) - (The Battle of the River Plate) - Ill Met by Moonlight - Peeping Tom - (They’re a Weird Mob) - (Age of Consent) - (The Boy Who Turned Yellow)
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