Brief Encounter (1945)

(On Cable TV, June 2018) Watching classic movies from a list of pre-approved classics is usually one happy discovery after another—after all, those are the movies that have lasted throughout the ages, so they come with a presumption of quality. After a while, you start to wonder if all movies of the time were just as good, or if you’re getting a skewed idea of the period through its best representatives. But then you’re brought back to earth by a film such as Brief Encounter, which feels dull, overlong, anticlimactic and even useless. But our perspective is not that of the time, of course: Back in 1945, Brief Encounter and its tale of unconsummated adulterous passion was seen as a return to normalcy after the wartime years, as a refreshing example of realism, as a courageous take on many British presumptions. It’s subtle, unfulfilling and stoic—and it betrays a ton accumulated and assumed social restrictions. That does not make for exhilarating cinema. But it did bring director David Lean to the forefront of his contemporaries, and earned Brief Encounter an overwhelming number of favourable notices. Don’t ask me what I think, though: I barely stayed awake throughout the film, and would not jump at the chance of seeing it again.

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