A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH

MICHAEL POWELL & EMERIC PRESSBURGER

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This was the last in the series of films in which Powell and Pressburger responded directly to the pressures of their historical moment; even I Know Where I’m Going, with its screwball comedy framework, was pointedly anchored in wartime Britain. Asked at the end of the war by the Ministry of Information to make a film promoting Anglo-American friendship, they came up with this extraordinary fantasy, taking place ‘in the mind of’ a wounded British airman (David Niven), in love with an American (Kim Hunter), as he hovers between life and death. Attacked at the time by critical proponents of restrained good taste and documentary realism, the film has survived through its stunning visual qualities, its potent Oedipal framework – heaven serving as the domain of the father, a WW1 casualty, whom the protagonist thus never knew – and, not least, through the passionate championship of fans such as Martin Scorsese, whose regular editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, is Powell’s widow.

104 minutes| U.K.| 1946| Colour/Black and White| D-Cinema

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