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A Matter Of Life And Death Review

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An airman who fails to survive a warime crash finds himself so besotted with the American air controller who was trying to guide him in safely that he is reluctant to head off to heaven.

★★★★★

Powell and Pressburger's 1946 fable was harshly received by critics on its original release, despite making its debut as the first Royal Command Film performance. But time has served this unusual Brit flick well, so much so that a loyal and loving audience awaits the release of this new 35mm print.

It's very much a film of its time and yet the themes are universal. Released while the world was still reeling from conflict on an unprecedented scale, this focuses on the human effect of that war.

Niven is the British airman who survives what should have been a fatal crash. In the next few hours he falls in love with the American air controller (Hunter) who was trying to talk him home to safety. Understandably, he proves reluctant to head on up to heaven when an "angel" arrives to collect him.

Simple technical tricks help create a magical half world. In Heaven, and on the stairway that takes souls upwards, all is black and white, while earth blazes into glorious Technicolor (which is duly noted in an "in joke" made by Goring). Actors freeze when celestial messengers appear, most dramatically in one sequence mid-table tennis game. Most impressive is the vast celestial court, populated by thousands of spectators.

It's a story with humour and heart, a genuine classic that rewards with repeat viewings. And always the question remains: is what unfolds in the story something real or a product of the battling airman's imagination?

A film of its time but with Universal appeal

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