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Sunday, April 1, 2012

GREAT MOVIES: Brief Encounter (1945)

Brief Encounter

Director David Lean's most famous films are his three giant masterpieces The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), and Doctor Zhivago (1965). But some of his earlier, black and white films are great masterpieces, as well and Brief Encounter is definitely one of them.

Celia Johnson stars as Laura Jesson, a bourgeois housewife who, while performing her Thursday shopping and enjoying her general day out meets a handsome stranger. This stranger, Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard) is a doctor and to say that they hit it off would be an understatement. They decide on meeting each other every Thursday at the train station and from there on they frequent the local movie theatre, random shops, and enjoy walks in the park and other surrounding niceties.

There are three elements that make Brief Encounter an excellent film:

1) The cinematography and lighting schemes closely resembling those of film noires. I'm not entirely certain as to what the purpose of that specific type of visual aesthetic was in correlation to this film but the final product consistently looks strikingly beautiful as a result.

2) The concept of the film is centered on the idea that a married woman, belonging to a certain high echelon in society can get away with an affair, provided that one reasons that what they're viewing is only a movie. However, the couple's relationship feels authentic because of the decade in which the film was made (as in a pre-method acting decade) and also because of the realistically delivered performances by Johnson and Howard. They are natural actors and great ones, at that; their relationship feels real because they don't appear to be acting. No theatrics were required to make their relationship a convincingly good one.

3) The film is narrated by Laura almost right from its start. At the film's start, Laura sits before her husband, who reads a newspaper quietly, and she contemplates telling her husband what she'd been up to during the past few weeks (or months). The narration for the remainder of the film then is delivered as sort of confession and I won't ruin what happens at the end of the film, but let me assure you that it'll make you rethink all of what I'd written about in point #2.

There's not a lot to say about the plot of the film because it deals more with everyday happenings and a loving couple hanging out. It's a relatively short film (and especially for David Lean), clocking in at 86 minutes but in contains a distinct beginning, middle, and end. There's a good screenplay at work and, although I'd hate to have to repeat myself but the performances are terrific because of the actors' natural talents. They sell the film and make an entertaining one.

I've watched Brief Encounter for the first time earlier this week and found it to be thoroughly entertaining and lighthearted, for the most part. It's not a tearjerker, at least not entirely, and I am amazed to have found it to be such a light, fun film to watch. Many reading this might think that I'm out of my mind for thinking so but I was focused on the actors' faces, their convincing expressions, and their delivery of dialogue much more than the actual words that came out of their mouths because of their tremendous talent. I felt like I was with the two of them walking in the park or seated in a dark movie theatre laughing at Daffy Ducks cartoons. I felt like I was there and because they're relationship is mostly a happy one I felt happy and I felt happy to be there. One might call it an early "fly on the wall" film, in which we follow said characters everywhere that they go and at all times and feel like we're there with them and I find that that's the magic behind what makes Brief Encounter work so well.

David Lean was a master filmmaker and storyteller from early on in his great career and the way in which he delivers the last five minutes of Brief Encounter is incredible and note worthy. I'm not going to say whether the happenings are happy or sad but just that what happens is amazing; and those that watch the film to its end will agree with me that David Lean was a terrific filmmaker and storyteller and that Brief Encounter is a terrific film.

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