Criterion Throwback Review: Powell and Pressburger’s ‘A Matter of Life and Death’

This review is by our guest writer, Laura Venning.

This month, A Matter of Life and Death is finally enshrined in the Criterion Collection, joining Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger favourites The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, and The Tales of Hoffman.

While often eclipsed by the dark melodrama of The Red Shoes and Black Narcissus, A Matter of Life and Death is an equally ravishing film that explores nothing less than war, peace, life, death, and love on a personal and cosmic scale. In this time of violent nationalism and bigotry, it’s a film that gives hope to the viewer and one that certain world leaders would do well to see.

It’s 1945 and Royal Air Force pilot Peter Carter (David Niven)’s time is up. His plane’s been hit and he’s hurtling towards his inevitable death. In his final moments, he quotes poetry to American radio operator June (Kim Hunter), but then, he miraculously washes up unharmed on the shore. The heavenly bureaucracy responsible for processing the deceased realises they’ve made their first mistake in a thousand years and dispatches Conductor 71 (Marius Goring) to retrieve him. Unfortunately for them, these extra hours on Earth have meant Peter and June have now met and fallen in love. In order to stay alive, Peter must appeal to the heavenly court and prove the depth of his love while kindly Doctor Reeves (Roger Livesey) fears his celestial hallucinations are a sign of brain damage.

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Agnès Varda at the BFI

On Tuesday evening every audience member of the sold out NFT1 screen at the BFI Southbank rose to give 90-year-old Agnès Varda a standing ovation. With astonishing humility, she responded with “I’m so glad there are so many of you. I’m impressed that I’m just coming saying things and you come to listen to me.”

For decades Agnès Varda has been confined to the margins of film history while her French New Wave contemporaries like Godard and Truffaut appear on every film studies syllabus. No more. In the past year, Faces Places screened at Cannes, she received an honorary Academy Award, protested the lack of female directors represented at Cannes, and now is celebrated by a retrospective at the BFI.

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A Wild and Distant Shore: ‘The Piano’, Colonialism and Kiwi Gothic

This essay is by our guest writer, Laura Venning.

This month, Jane Campion’s The Piano has returned to UK cinemas for its 25th anniversary. It remains an incredibly powerful film that cemented Campion as one of the most important female filmmakers of all time, but also, as one of few New Zealand filmmakers to gain international renown. Years before audiences were awed by the landscape of Middle Earth in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy or charmed by the brilliant comedic vision of Taika Waititi, they landed on a turbulent North Island beach with Ada McGrath (Holly Hunter).

Campion had previously enjoyed acclaim for her early work (Peel won the Short Film Palme d’Or at the 1986 Cannes Film Festival), but it was the success of The Piano which elevated her to an unforeseen level of fame. Her erotic tale of female passion at the edge of the world made her the first female winner of the Palme d’Or (but shared with Kaige Chen for Farewell My Concubine) and only the second woman to be nominated for Best Director at the Academy Awards where she won Best Original Screenplay.

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