A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH, 1946
Returning to England from a bombing run in May 1945, flyer Peter Carter's plane is damaged and his parachute ripped to shreds. He has his crew bail out safely, but figures it is curtains for himself. He gets on the radio, and talks to June, a young American woman working for the USAAF, and they are quite moved by each other's voices. Then he jumps, preferring this to burning up with his plane. He wakes up in the surf. It was his time to die, but there was a mixup in heaven. They couldn't find him in all that fog. By the time his "Conductor" catches up with him 20 hours later, Peter and June have met and fallen in love. This changes everything, and since it happened through no fault of his own, Peter figures that heaven owes him a second chance. Heaven agrees to a trial to decide his fate.
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Often times when Technicolor was used in a feature, it was supposed to invoke some sort of aspect of a fantasy land. This breathtaking use of color was meant to say, "this is the stuff dreams are made of."
However, in Powell and Pressberger's, A Matter of Life and Death. They completely subvert the entire notion of "fantasy" with this film because of their depiction of heaven in dull, dreary, black and white, and life on earth as full of vibrant, gorgeous color.
The film opens with the always fantastic David Niven playing Peter Carter, a pilot who promises his love to a woman he's never met before, because he's about to die. Then, when heaven screws up taking him in, he actually finds this woman and falls in love with Kim Hunter who plays "June". Then the central conflict of the film begins; heaven realizes it's mistake and charges Peter Carter to trial to determine his fate.
The film itself is even references how the monochrome tones affect the mood of heaven in a line by Conductor 71 (the person who processes incoming people to heaven), "One is starved for Technicolor up there."
They all want to be in love...and true love, as this film reinforces, can only be shown in such a glorious display of color.
The drama and the tension conveyed with the color shifts, and themeticulously placed editing, reaches a climax during the trial/surgery scene. Where Peter is held before trial defending his love and his devotion to June. This scene is very reminiscent of Jimmy Stewart's infamous filibuster scene in "Mr.Smith Goes to Washington" Much like that film, this scene brings up your spirits, and gets you wrapped up in the on screen emotional turmoil in believing in the power of true love. As sappy as that sounds, wait until you see the scene and getall riled up for June and Peter to make it work in the end.
One very interesting aspect of this picture is the fact that, although the subject matter is apparently very serious, (re: the title) it doesn't ever feel like you being beaten over the head with the fact that the characters are in love. It never becomes dull or dreary. It always stays refreshingly upbeat, and light. Yet somehow, you are on the edge of your seat the entire time.
This film is often debated as being one of the best films of all time, and it comes with very good reason. The all-star cast, the artistic direction, the masterful touch of Jack Cardiff on deck, and with the Archers at the helm, this film couldn't have gone off-route as it sailed on to where the other masterworks are held at bay.
In very simple terms, this movie is what every romance film strives to be. Now stop reading, go watch this movie, and be forever changed.
A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH