Do you know a movie that anyone who has seen it praises unconditionally but you still don't hear whole lot of buzz around them otherwise? I mean, we all know movies that we think are under appreciated but this is taking it to the next level. I think my film for this month, Brief Encounter(1945), is one such film. I know lot of people who think world of this film. I should rather say it like this - I have never seen anyone say anything remotely bad about this film. But somehow this film has successfully eluded me thus far. I decided I wasn't going to let it go any further this year and finally put it on this list. And here we are, in the month of September, I have finally seen it!
Brief Encounter is about an affair of two sensible, happily married people with perfect families who wouldn't even think about cheating on their spouses, that is, until they meet each other. Even their meeting is a chance meeting. Laura is a housewife and spends her Wednesdays shopping and Alec is a doctor who spends his subbing for a friend. Their paths cross at a Milford railway station where they catch trains in opposite directions every week. They meet for the first time in waiting room where he helps her get something out of her eye. Over the next couple of weeks their paths cross again on few occasions and two very easily strike up rather innocent friendship at first. However, as they start spending more and more time with each other watching movies and sharing lunches, even they don't realize when it turns into a full blown affair.
It opens with Laura and Alec parting their ways. It is one of those scenes where both Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard say a lot without actually saying much; probably even the best of the lot. Rest of the film plays out inside Laura's head where she imagines she is telling everything about this encounter to her husband. This is a rather interesting tool since it makes us privy to all the information first hand, from Laura's own perspective. It tells us things that we otherwise would only guess like at every step of the way, both Laura and Alec knew what they are doing will have serious repercussions and still kept going with it. In their own words, they decide not to see other a thousand times over the week but still end up together every Wednesday.
Neither Celia Johnson nor Trevor Howard are particularly attractive or traditionally beautiful. But this story is not driven by their physical attraction and it is a very welcome change. We don't get many films like that. What drives this story is their innocuous desire to get out of the ordinary, to do something different from their routine life and once ball gets rolling, no one really knows how to stop it or whether they really want it to stop it. What makes it work is chemistry of Johnson and Howard, compact script and direction. And it is directed by David Lean in his early period of British films. When someone says David Lean, films that I associate this name with are his sprawling epic films like Lawrence of Arabia(1962), Doctor Zhivago(1965) or even A Passage to India(1984)(even though I wasn't the biggest fan of it). It was nice to see him making such a personal film with equal finesse.
However as much as I like it, and I do feel very strange saying this but, I cannot help but feel a little disappointed and this is completely my own fault. When I think back on it, I can only think of good things about this movie but never being really wowed by it. I have seen many people giving this film glowing review. While I sat down to watch this one, even I was expecting to be swept off my feet a la In the Mood for Love(1999). What I forgot was it impressed me so much was because I had no expectations at all from it; I didn't even know it then! Here I already was expecting a masterpiece here and now even a really good film seems like a letdown. I told you, I have no one else but myself to blame.