{Of all lies, art is the least untrue - Flaubert}

Monday, October 26, 2015

David Lean's Brief Encounter

With this year's promise to see more of Hollywood classics, I started the year with David Lean's Brief Encounter. This film is based on Noel Coward's play Still Life (he wrote the screen play too) about a provincial housewife (Laura Jesson, played by Celia Johnson) who falls in love with a married doctor (Dr. Alec Harvey, played by Trevor Howard) whom she meets briefly on train station. I don’t know about the history of evolution of film language, but this film seems to have broken grounds on at least two levels - the use of flashback in narrative, and the use of music and sound. Usually in films, the use of flashback cuts narrative back and forth from past to present. There is "now" and "then" segregation, the rift between the immediate and the gone-by. Here, the use of flashback is not to "tell" the story, but to re-remember it, which makes it a dream and so the boundaries are blurred, the occasional transitions between now and then looks like blinks of eyes, a slight fog of present over past, or the other way round - the way you want to see it. The use of flashback normally suffers from the narrative bane that we know the ending in the beginning itself. Lean does show us the ending in the beginning, but hides from us what that ending meant to the hero and heroine, rather beautifully, and when we see the ending in the ending, we rediscover what we saw in the beginning. We think how our heroine must have felt at that odd hour. Lean achieves this without any trick. The ending in beginning is told from an observer (may be director) point of view, but the ending towards the end is the part of the flashback and told from the intimate point of view of Laura.

Similarly the use of music and sound is very conceptual. The sounds of train - whistle, train announcements, shrill sound as they run to the platform - are used as emotional signals which decides when the lovers meet and part. As a social critique, the time table of trains and the ethics of platform decide when and how they can show their love to each other. Other effects like the cutting of light on the face of the person standing on the platform as a train fly past him, the fog of smoke that blurs the vision, the wind from a running train are also used to create the right atmosphere (remember, we are in a dream of flashback).Before Laura dreams her past, she turns on the radio which was playing Second Piano Concerto by Sergei Rachmaninoff. In the flashback, at the most romantic and sublime moments, the music comes back (in one of scenes the flashback, our heroine imagines a dance with her lover, a trip to Paris and Venice, as Rachmaninoff Concerto plays in background, it is again something awesome - dream within a dream with out-of-dream music). The film uses a lot of voice over, which in the beginning looks odd, but smoothens as the film progresses. And after seeing this I know what they mean when they talk about onscreen chemistry. Both of the leads are no great lookers, but when they are together they spark the screen. An intimate and passionate film that is as much visually satisfying as it is emotionally.


Push. said...

tell Farah khan who da david lean is as vidhu vindo chpra ws so much interested to tell it her. [:P]


anurag said...


Actually I hated Eklavya very much. The climax was just horrible !