Starring: David Niven, Kim Hunter, Roger Livesey
Director: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Running Time: 104 mins
A Matter Of Life And Death is a British film about a serviceman who miraculously survives jumping from his burning plane without a parachute. Soon after, he falls in love with a young woman, but when it emerges that he should in fact have died, he is forced to appeal to the high court of the afterlife to extend his time on Earth.
This film is absolutely fantastic. Taking on an insanely complex and abstract premise and turning it into a delightfully entertaining, yet still fascinating movie, A Matter Of Life A Death is a real treat to watch. With expert directing from Powell and Pressburger, and superb lead performances, there’s never a dull moment in this film, which brilliantly blends all sorts of genres to make a truly enthralling experience.
Let’s start right at the beginning, and the film’s mind-blowing opening sequence. As much as I loved the whole movie, there’s nothing that really compares to the first five minutes. Opening with a bang, we see the last moments of this pilot as he engages in an emotional conversation with a servicewoman back home. It’s fast-paced, confusing, and brilliantly powerful, and it gets you utterly engrossed in the film without even a moment’s hesitation.
But even after that astonishing opening, the film keeps pulling all sorts of surprises with its story. For one, the way that ‘heaven’ is presented is both simple and still brilliantly unique. On the one hand, you’ve got the idea that it’s an angelic place where everyone arrives after they die, but the way that the film switches between black-and-white for heaven and Technicolor for the real world was absolutely ingenious.
Much like The Wizard Of Oz, the change in colours gives a fascinating perspective on the two worlds. Rather than being a utopia, A Matter Of Life And Death sees the afterlife as a place that takes far more than it gives, and instead portrays Earth, where the pilot meets his love, as the truly wonderful place. The technique is fascinating to watch unfold, and it also helps significantly in defining your alliances as you pick sides throughout the movie, something that made the film all the more immersive.
Although the third act definitely doesn’t match up to the stunning first hour, there’s no moment where the film really languishes or begins to miss out on what makes it great. The story is brilliantly written, and totally engrossing, whilst Powell and Pressburger do a stunning job at giving the film a unique atmosphere, mixing the delightful larks of your typical romantic drama, as well as fascinating, intelligent and thrilling ideas about such a complex concept.
Finally, I can’t ignore the fantastic performances that make this film such a great watch. David Niven is brilliantly charismatic in the lead role, again balancing his acting between comedy, romance and drama. Meanwhile, Kim Hunter shines as his love interest, asserting herself on screen and matching up perfectly to Niven, meaning that she plays a far larger part in your engagement with the film than most female love interests of the age, which was great to see.
Overall, I absolutely adored A Matter Of Life And Death. On the one hand, it’s an ingenious, thrilling, and totally engrossing fantasy drama, but it balances that brilliantly with a lighter atmosphere, full of great romance, comedy and characters, and that’s why it gets an 8.5 from me.