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Customer Review

7 of 56 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Unbridled jingoism, 9 April 2011
This review is from: A Matter Of Life And Death [DVD] (DVD)
A lot of people still enjoy this film, over 60 years after its release, but I find it to be extremely dated in terms of the script and its politics and, notwithstanding the technical quality, not at all worth watching or relevant.

It's about a pilot named Carter (David Niven) shot down during the war who's supposed to die, according to heaven's account books, but doesn't for some reason. Heaven sends an emissary to look for him, but he doesn't want to go as he's fallen in love with an American girl. So, a trial is held in Heaven where he has to show that he should be allowed stay on earth.

It was released in 1946, just after the war had ended, so I guess feelings were running high, and relief and euphoria were in the air, but the unashamed jingoism on display here is, from this distance, an embarrassment. The English national character is displayed in a self-satisfied and rather arrogant way. The heaven in the story is presided over by people with English accents. The big message is how England and America should put aside their differences and realize their similarities. The rest of the world is kind of brushed aside. There is a grotesque parody of a Frenchman as heaven's emissary, a camp, preening fop who looks like he came from another film (a Carry On film, as another reviewer here has said).

A good indication of the arrogant attitude to the rest of the world is when the multi-national jury is challenged by counsel for Carter, one Doctor Reeves (David Livesey), because they're Indian, Irish, Boer, etc. and all have reason to dislike and be biased against the English. So Reeves asks for another jury, to which the American opposing counsel agrees, as long as they're not English, to which Reeves asks: "Why not English? Where else in the world have the rights of the individual been held so high?"
"In America, Sir! Where these rights are held to be inalienable."
"I doubt you have more practical freedom in America than in England. An Englishman thinks as he likes in religion and politics."
Then the other guy gives a rousing speech about America being the only place where "man is full grown", and Reeves, showing that great English sense of fair play, proclaims loudly: "THEN I CHOOSE A JURY OF AMERICANS!" Cue gasps of astonishment from all those watching. Nice one, Reeves

The annoying thing is the dismissal of the other nations, and the exaltation of the English and American characters at their expense - Reeves can accept an American jury can be trusted to overcome rivalries and judge fairly, but not a jury from other places. Plus it's just completely over-the-top, empty nationalist rhetoric that permeates the whole film, not to mention a sickly, love-conquers-all sentimentality.

Of course, it's kind of left open to say all the trial is in the pilot's head, but he's presented as such a reliable and all round good guy, a stereotypical romantic lead, it doesn't really fit, and the film can't be seen as an exploration of mental illness, the tone is too all-round celebratory.

Powell and Pressburger have a big reputation nowadays, and I'd enjoyed the other films of theirs I had seen (Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes, Contraband) but this is way more simplistic and unnuanced than I would have thought them capable of. Maybe in the immediate aftermath of WWII this sort of film went down well, but in my opinion it has nothing to offer to a modern viewer.
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Showing 1-10 of 12 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 12 Apr 2011 11:17:48 BDT
D. Fairfield says:
I don't mean to offend after all everyone is going to have a different view on things but if I could just say I don't think a lot of people understand the film. The film shows that love is the only thing that matters in this world and the next, that nationallities are not relevant since the whole "heavenly" case was whether he should live or die because he has fallen in love.

In the scene on the staircase with Peter Carter & conductor 72 to discuss who is going to be his defense, they don't talk of Nationality but of the great minds of the past. Listen again to Peter speech just before he jumps.

In this world of course it was very English because that is where it is set.

People talk about the romance as if it is secondary it is the point of the film.
people may fight, countries may war but love is what matters to everybody.

Finally remember Peter Carter is a poet and his attitude trancends politics, love is all that matters.

In reply to an earlier post on 8 Jul 2011 16:10:57 BDT
Triestino says:
"The film shows that love is the only thing that matters in this world and the next." Yes, but the problem, it seems to me, is that Powell and Pressburger became so obsessed with creating the fantasy that the fantasy ended up drowning out the message. In that sense it's a fantasy film (and these days not what I would call a compelling fantasy film) rather than a love story.

There are other drawbacks, too. The script strikes me as extremely dated and embarrassingly juvenile - so much so that it's hard to listen to it without laughing (try watching the film after seeing Monty Python's Flying Circus, and you will see what I mean). And I very much agree with what Mark Wallace says about the crassness of the nationalism: heaven, apparently, is for Anglo-Saxons only.

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Aug 2011 13:50:09 BDT
Last edited by the author on 20 Aug 2011 13:50:42 BDT
Peasant says:
Yes, it is a film which requires a great deal of objectivity if you are to forgive it's embarassing moments and appreciate the art. I agree with the general thread of this discussion. I think P&P's "darker" war films (Canterbury Tale springs to mind) are more successful and this is an excellent review

Posted on 27 Oct 2011 16:05:21 BDT
Andrew Crook says:
One star really?

Posted on 21 Nov 2012 18:23:07 GMT
Rich says:
Anyone who thinks 'A Matter of Life and Death' is a one star film is a total moron. So ignore this review it's so stupid it's beyond belief.

Posted on 6 Dec 2012 11:33:10 GMT
oxymoron48 says:
What a bleak and humourless outlook this reviewer has - and how strange that "Anubis" should conclude that the film is not about love or loss or courage or sacrifice, and instead sees it as a vehicle for "unbridled jingoism".
One might have hoped for greater balance - after all, the reviewer names himself as "Guardian of the Scales"!

Posted on 18 Jan 2013 21:02:05 GMT
gmiester says:
The plot is full of holes, and yes it is unbridled jingoism but thats no reason to give the film one star surely. Simply as a piece of social commentary of the time, this film is a gem. But hey, we are all entitled to our opinions.

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Mar 2013 14:44:57 GMT
Mike Heron says:
I also think one star for this film is absurdly low. However, what exactly do you think your comment adds to the discussion? Throwing around words like "moron" says so much about the thrower and nothing about the target. Most criticism of the film fails to take account of the context and the reason the film was made. Watching and appreciating films from this era and earlier often requires some sense of history. Judging a film by modern standards (which are not necessarily higher) seems fruitless to me.

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Mar 2013 14:46:06 GMT
Mike Heron says:
I completely agree.

Posted on 12 Sep 2013 16:39:23 BDT
uncle joe says:
Outdated in its politics. My friend politics outdates itself on a daily basis never mind 60 years later
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