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A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH
1946 - Michael Powell / Emeric Pressburger
United Kingdom
51
Opening Shot

The film opens to a shot panning throughout the universe accompanied by voice-over detailing the vast wonder and mystery of it as it nears closer towards earth. The image moves in toward the earth where through sounds and voice-over (as well of the symbol of a burning city) we discover a world under war...

The Film

What a wonderful film this is! Classic, romantic intelligent, charming, imaginative, and absolutely lovely! Made in one of the greatest years in film history and by two of British's most legendary filmmakers: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Together they collaborated on almost 20 films, and to me, this is their finest (or at least alongside my other favorite, A Canterbury Tale). This is really a very simplistic fantasy story, but Powell and Pressburger extend it beyond the heights of standard filmmaking and into a magical world of ambitious vision, fairy tale, and beauty. The dialogue is wonderful and the film features glorious and vibrant Technicolor cinematography (earth) contrasted with sharp black and white (heaven). There is also some fabulous performances (notably by David Niven as Peter Carter) and strikingly inventive and creative visual techniques that Powell and Pressburger explore. Some of the originally intended themes (wartime propaganda) of the film (particularly within the trial sequences) is dated, but the true core and appeal of this classic film is undeniable, as it transcends far beyond it's narrative or themes. A Matter of Life and Death is a film that has the magical power to lift the viewer and carry them away into it's emotionally involving and visually beautiful world of sheer imagination and romance. "We won. I know darling."

The Filmmaker

One of the great directing teams in film history is Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Pressburger was born in Hungary and began in the early 1930s as a screenwriter throughout Europe before finally moving to Britain. There he was forced to learn the English language before meeting up with British filmmaker Michael Powell. Powell had already established himself as a director in England making silent films and early talkies. The two would become partners in 1941 with the release of 49th Parallel, which earned each of them Academy Award nominations (Pressberger won for Best Original Story). Powell and Pressburger would remain a team for a total of 19 feature films during the 1940s and 50s. The result is some of the most memorable films in the history of British cinema. Ironically it is perhaps the British born Powell who would need Pressburger to make his films more "British". They formed an independent company known as 'The Archers' and while it was Powell who directed the films and Pressburger who wrote them, they would share credits as 'Written Produced and Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger'. There films are mostly known for their extravagant fantasies, with a bold use of color (often Technicolor), artificial sets, and strong social and psychological themes. Their films are simple yet absolutely magical and beautifully visionary. To say Powell and Pressburger made fantasies is not to say their films without reality. Many of their films were realistic, but they would contrast the reality with artificial worlds. Ultimately this made their films universal, and above all artistically complex. The Powell-Pressburger team ended in 1957, and shortly afterwards Powell would go on to direct the masterpiece Peeping Tom. The films disturbing content (dealing with the uneasy subject of a psychopath who draws in women with his film camera and then records their death) was highly controversial upon it's release in 1960. Sadly, the films backlash all but ended the career of Powell, who undoubtedly rates among the greatest British filmmakers of all-time.

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