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BRIEF ENCOUNTER
1945 - David Lean
United Kingdom
18
Opening Shot

Just before the opening title cards the film begins with a stunning shot of a train passing through a station with the loud sounds of the whistle smoothly transition into the beautiful music of the film. As the credits complete we see a train moving fast and directly toward the screen as if it is coming right at as.

The Film

British filmmaker David Lean is a master of adapting books and plays into cinematic masterpiece. His 1946 film, Brief Encounter is no exception. It's a breathtakingly poetic meditation of longing, guilt, chance, and love. Brief Encounter is a film that is simple and conventional, but yet rare and inventive. Through metaphoric visual motifs (the passing trains, the local onlookers) and shadowy lighting, Brief Encounter emerges as an expressionistic film of poetry. This is truly effortless in every aspect of filmmaking. The technical direction, the incredible acting, the profound voice narration and dialogue, the glorious black and white cinematography, and the sweeping musical score are all without flaw. It's a film that dares the viewer to dream, through it's powerful nonlinear structure, romantic longing, and visual and emotional atmosphere. It's an incredibly moving film of touching and heartbreaking romance, and emotional involvement. There are so many emotional levels on which this film can be observed through the character of Laura. Laura is presented through a lyrical vision of detail by Lean. The entire film is through her state-of-mind. She is completely self-absorbed and longing for something more in her life. When chance (or perhaps fate) enter (through a piece of coal steam from a passing train), Laura finds romance that is inevitability doomed. Through Lean's stunning photography, his use of shadows and lighting, and subtle camera techniques, Brief Encounter expresses a doomed love affair between two lost souls that find themselves trapped within the conformity of a society. While the ending leaves hope ("Thank you for coming back to me"), the ambiguous tone remains, and the film leaves reflective thoughts that perhaps Laura's yearning is for fantasy, and the tragedy is that she desired this fantasy amongst the reality of the real world. This is simply one of the most moving films I've ever experienced. Brief Encounter is both unforgiving and sad, but yet is lovely at the same time. To me there is something almost peaceful and maybe even spiritual about this film in the way it feels so full of loneliness, yearning, sadness, and beauty all at once. On a narrative and stylistic level, the film is a masterpiece. On a poetic, dreamlike, and emotional level, Brief Encounter stands as one of my all-time favorite films. So perfect in every way!!

The Filmmaker

David Lean may be the most acclaimed and respected filmmaker in the history of British cinema. Lean began working as an editor before directing his first feature with Noel Coward in 1942. Coward wrote and starred in the film and was so pleased with the result he encouraged Lean to start his own production company (Cineguild). Lean's early films with Cineguild were adaptations of Coward's plays. The first two films (This Happy Breed, and Blithe Spirit) were comedies mostly focused on dialogue, where as Lean's preference and skills as a filmmaker were visual. This became evident with his forth feature, 1946's Brief Encounter, which is perhaps his greatest achievement and one of the very greatest films ever made. Simplistic in it's approach yet absolutely beautiful, and poetic in its result Brief Encounter captures the very essence of Lean's gifts as a visual master storyteller. Through expressive lightning the film creates a visual and emotional atmosphere that is equally poetic, lovely, and artistic. To me, Brief Encounter is quite simply one of the most perfect films ever made. Lean's next two features (which were both adaptations of Charles Dickens novels) also rate among his most memorable and definitive: 1946's Great Expectations and 1948's Oliver Twist. Both of these films would again capture Lean's expressive visual style and atmospheric storytelling ability. They would also mark Lean's earliest collaborations with the great actor Alec Guinness (who starred in a total of eight memorable films for Lean). Lean's last two features with Cineguild were not as well received. A turning point in Lean's career would emerge as he began making large epic-scaled films. He would scale down a bit in 1955 with Summertime, which starred the legendary Katharine Hepburn. The film was shot entirely on location in Venice and it marked Lean's desire to only shoot on location. Over the next 30 years Lean would direct just five more features, each of which would place his status as a legendary filmmaker and a master of the epics. Among these films would include his most acclaim work (1957's The Bridge on the River Kwai and one of cinema's quintessential widescreen epics Lawrence of Arabia- Lean won Best Director Academy Awards for both of films). Though he is mostly known for his epics, and male-centered characters, Lean's early films show a scaled-down, romantic, and simple filmmaking talent. What ever scale he was working with Lean was truly one of cinema's finest visual and atmospheric poets.

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