Brief Encounter ★★★★★


For all the romances the movies have given us, there are precious few in which you really witness two people gradually falling in love, as opposed to the insta-passion shorthand that's usually employed (or the comic convention in which it's a final-reel revelation). Certainly it's never been more exquisitely realized than it is here, in all its glory and misery. Hard to believe Coward originally wrote it as a play, as so much of its emotional power derives from the device of having Laura narrate the story—in her imagination only—to her devoted husband; all the "opened-out" scenes seem essential, and there may be no finer moment in British cinema than the one in which the potential cuckold perceives his rival as a tedious imposition rather than a threat, inspiring gales of laughter from Laura, who'd been anxiously trying to semi-confess. Lean shoots most of the film as simply and cleanly as possible, which lends uncommon force to his very occasional formal gambits—the Tilt of Madness on the platform at the end, of course (wrecks me every time), but also the abrupt cut from close-up to long shot when Laura and Alec first kiss, which is the exact opposite of what you'd expect, and utterly perfect. The whole movie is utterly perfect, really. And I'd somehow never realized/noticed before that the use of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto #2 means that Laura twice wanders the streets alone to the bridge from "All by Myself." Only a genius could anticipate future pop-music appropriation so ideally.

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