7 of 56 people found the following review helpful
, 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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