February 16th, 2013


Arguing With Myself About A Matter Of Life And Death

The last time I wrote about A Matter of Life and Death I was grudging in my admiration. I said it tried too hard, that the sets were cardboardy, that  Kim Hunter was dull and Marius Goring annoying.

I still think Goring overacts. He's mis-cast, The role calls for an actor who doesn't have to work so hard to convey whimsicality and charm.

I was watching Hunter's performance carefully this time round to see if I was missing anything- and I think I was. Actually, she's rather sweet. And plucky and stalwart. One of the things I was missing Is that she and Niven (effortlessly charming) aren't really the centre of the film. Livesey is- with Raymond Massey as his worthy antagonist. Niven and Hunter command the film's opening (and God, but that sequence with Niven in the burning plane is good!) but once they've fallen in love there's nothing for them to do but be acted upon. They're like the lovers in a Midsummer Night's Dream- which (surely not by accident) is being rehearsed behind them in the NAAFI when Niven meets Livesey for the first time.

As for the sets being cardboardy- well- what do you expect? This time round I was impressed. Amazing things are achieved on a small budget. The courtroom is astonishingly big. What tricks, what lenses did they use to achieve that sense of scale?

A Matter of Life and Death is a slippery, elusive film. It's not just a love story. It's also about patriotism (English and American), the brotherhood of man, human destiny- all sorts of things. The themes slide about, criss-crossing and confusing the viewer- like fish in an aquarium. It defies genre. it takes huge risks, it puts the inconceivable on film. "Trying too hard"  is one way of putting it but I can think of others.