A Matter of Life and Death | Fresh Takes
Fresh takes and film reviews from new voices in film.
Lucy, Miranda, Nathan & Rotem
19 Jan 24
Fresh Takes is a space for the latest generation of film lovers to share their views and opinions on some of the great films we are showing at Picturehouse cinemas.
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Here are some Fresh Takes on A Matter of Life and Death, the iconic 1946 British fantasy-romance set in England during World War II. Written, produced and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, the film stars David Niven, Roger Livesey, Raymond Massey, Kim Hunter and Marius Goring.
This film is showing as part of our Powell & Pressburger season, a celebration of the UK's most prodigious pair of filmmakers and their far-reaching, utterly sublime cinematic visions. Find out more and book tickets at picturehouses.com/p&p
Rotem, 17Rotem is a sixth form student in her first year of studying film in Cambridge, always on the lookout for new film subcultures, movements, and 'cults' to delve into. You can find more of her opinions on Letterboxd (@rotem_mp4).
Marius Goring's campy conductor defines love as "the feeling of the moment". The moment at which A Matter of Life and Death is set is crucial to understanding it. Responding to a post-war need for escapism, Powell and Pressburger created a film that is both grounded and fantastical, a film in which the only distinction between dreams and reality is a switch between monochrome and colour. Between the softly glowing colours of reality and the extremely impressive set design of the imagined afterlife, the pair never once compromised on visuals.
As a Gen-Z viewer, I thought I would struggle to understand or stay focused on the film, but A Matter of Life and Death has transcended the constraints of time both within its plot and in its real-world audience reception and legacy. A heartwarming story of love sprung up between two fleeting strangers, it is a satisfying, theatrical, lighthearted and yet thought-provoking piece of fiction, decorated with a beautiful score and a charming script.
Nathan Readman, 21
Nathan lives in York and is a hobbyist movie lover with an appreciation for films that are a little strange or out there.
Released only a year after a devastating worldwide conflict, A Matter of Life and Death had every reason to be pessimistic about our tendency for war, our desire for wealth, or any number of other things we should feel guilty about. It instead chose to argue for life, in what is a dreamy, powerful and romantic story of two people in love forced to prove their affection to a higher power.
A Matter of Life and Death takes on the daunting task of arguing for our most impulsive and confusing emotion. The usual love story relies heavily on exasperated monologues and questionable desperation, but here there's a perfect lesson of 'show, don't tell' – each scene speaks for itself. A favourite example of mine is the Angel's visit to Earth, in which a slow pan reveals the movie's two lovers under a dense canopy of pink flowers, as if Mother Nature herself was serenading their unity.
There are a million other things to be said of this film, from the impressive sets, witty dialogue (importantly, witty British dialogue), masterful acting and a beautiful use of colour, but it's the combination of these aspects that make an unforgettable experience and a film full of heart that never forgets what it means to be truly in love.
Miranda Kuyk, 24
Miranda is a film lover who works in marketing in London. She's passionate about great storytelling, and her favourite movies are the ones that take you on a journey as you watch.
When I sat down to watch A Matter of Life and Death, I was pleasantly surprised. From the title, and what little I knew of the plot, I was expecting a tragic tale that was hard to connect with so many years after it was originally released. What I got was an engaging story, full of whimsy and romance, brimming with emotion.
While there are overtones of nationalism in its politics, this charming, self-aware film is full of funny, tender moments that leave you feeling uplifted. At its heart, this is a love story, played out by David Niven's Peter and Kim Hunter's June. It's also about optimism, and as we move between our world and another, fantasy offsets reality, creating lightness despite the wartime setting.
Alongside the story and captivating performances, the vibrant Technicolor is beautiful to see – and while some special effects might seem cheesy to a modern audience, I think they add to the film's spirit.
Premiering in 1946, this fantastical film may have been just what people needed, creating a sense of hopefulness and romance in the face of harsh realities. It has the same effect today.
Lucy lives in Kent and is a fan of classic British films and television. A History and Heritage graduate, she spent university writing about classic films and television at every possible moment, and continues to write essays for upcoming publications.
Carter, a WW2 RAF pilot (David Niven), manages to cheat death when he fails to be processed by an incredibly bureaucratic afterlife. The guide who should have taken him is keen to rectify the situation – but matters are complicated when Carter falls in love and wants to argue his case to remain on Earth. Is Carter being haunted by visions? Does the 'other world' exist, or is his earthly romance just a dream?
One of the greatest British films of all time, A Matter of Life and Death's plot, dialogue and special effects all hold up exceptionally today. It would be hard to talk about it without mentioning its stunning selection of match cuts, and the iconic moving staircase. All these effects, with no use of CGI or modern technology, look just as good today as they undoubtedly did upon release.
The film is also notable in its use of colour play. Scenes set on Earth are in Technicolor, whereas scenes in the 'other world' are monochrome, alluding to the idea that colour is precious – therefore, life is precious. This 'other world' being in black and white is, interestingly, the opposite of 1939's The Wizard of Oz: a film released into a world on the verge of war, where another world in Technicolor was a wanting escape. A Matter of Life and Death was made in 1946, a year after the war ended in Europe, and everyday life was resuming – it was brighter, and in this context, back to full colour.