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Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Brief Encounter (1945)

Also: “Ride Along 2” and “Krampus” are new to Blu-Ray this week.

Love affairs of the body are one thing. They are the types of affairs that are most obvious to the outside world, and have the most potential to leave clues that lead to the cheaters being caught. Emotional affairs are another thing all together. No physical evidence is left behind that someone is falling in love with someone else. They have to be together to fall in love with each other of course, but their affair can appear to the outside as harmless. Just two friends having lunch, going to the movies, and waiting for a train with each other.

“Brief Encounter” explores an emotional affair between middle-aged British citizens Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson) and Dr. Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard). The set up is brilliant: The two are having a quiet conversation in the refreshment room of a train station when Laura’s super-annoying chatty Cathy of a friend Dolly Messiter (Everley Gregg) plunges herself down at their table and starts rambling. This scene will be visited later at the end of the movie, where we see it from another point of view. The recent movie “Carol,” directed by Todd Haynes, about a lesbian love affair, clearly paid homage to this structure in its opening and closing scenes.

 



Both Laura and Alec are happily married, with children. The movie is told from Laura’s point of view as she sits across from her husband Fred (Cyril Raymond), who is a decent, caring, loving, good-hearted man. She looks at him while he’s doing his crossword puzzle, and in her mind she confesses to him about what she’s feeling for Alec. This leads to flashbacks that show how she and Alec met, and how through a series of brief encounters—they really only had Thursday afternoons together—the two fell in love and came to yearn for each other.

“Brief Encounter” is based on a one-act play by Noel Coward called “Still Life,” and that title is pretty telling as well. Neither Laura nor Alec are particularly miserable in their marriages. They don’t hate their spouses or resent their kids. The problem is that their lives—not just their marriages, but their existences—have become mundane. Laura and Alec each fill the need inside of the other to break the cycle of trite repetition. They know that what they are doing could hurt the ones they love if they were ever discovered. At the same time, the pull toward the excitement is very strong. As Alec jokingly points out, “You’re only middle-aged once.” This is true, and neither one of them know if or when they will ever feel this youthful spark of joy again.


Since the movie is based on a play, it is very much filmed like a play—camera flat on the ground, pointing straight, and a lot of medium to long shots. The dialogue is also very rhythmic and polished, in the manner of a stage play. Johnson and Howard do what they can to heat up the screen, but it never really gets past tepid. The two have a good enough chemistry together, but nothing that really sizzles. I couldn’t help but constantly be aware that what I am watching is staged and pre-written.

Still, “Brief Encounter” is a very effective, emotionally resonant movie. I give credit to the story, and to the very adult theme that is the backbone of the movie. A lot of credit must go to Celia Johnson as well. She is the one who carries the movie, as what we see is through the eyes of her character, Laura. Johnson is amazingly expressive with her face. Her eyes alone emote all of the anguish and guilt and heartbreak that the character goes through throughout the course of “Brief Encounter.” Smart move also from David Lean—one of the best directors in not only British cinema, but in all of cinema—to move the camera in nice and close during her thoughts. Her face portraying what she’s feeling along with the voice over telling us what she is thinking is devastating. That’s where “Brief Encounter” gets its power and its heartbreak, and is the reason why it’s so undoubtedly worth watching. Buy it on Amazon: Brief Encounter (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray].

Also New This Week

Ride Along 2

Ice Cube and Kevin Hart are back for the buddy comedy/road movie/pointless sequel/shameless cash-in “Ride Along 2.” This time the two are in Miami to stop a powerful drug smuggler named Antonio Pope (Benjamin Bratt, giving the movie some class) and are joined by Miami cop Maya (Olivia Munn), who has all the personality of a dial tone.

Cube and Hart are very fun to watch together. Their opposite looks and demeanors go a long way to lending themselves to comedy when they barb and riff with each other. Too bad the “Beverly Hills Cop” knock off of a script they’re given is dead in the water. I’d love to see these two again with better material, or even something classic like an update of “The Odd Couple” with them as Felix and Oscar. Anything but “Ride Along 3”—please. Skip it.

Krampus

Christmas and horror have a mixed bag of a history together. The idea of a large man entering your house in the middle of the night can be alarming to some. After all, if it wasn’t jolly old Saint Nick creeping around your living room at 2:30 am on December 25, you’d probably call the cops. Christmas horror movies (I‘m thinking mainly of “Black Christmas” and “Silent Night, Deadly Night,”) play on the “Santa Claus could be a creepy killer” vibe.

“Krampus” takes it a step further. Not only is the Santa figure—the Krampus–a huge, imposing demon with some vicious-looking horns, but the elves and the toys, particularly a jack in the box that’s bigger than you’d think, are nasty and evil as well. This ratchets the movie up a notch from the standard home invasion horror movie fare.

“Krampus” is also served by the fact that it takes a little while to get to the action. This is a good thing because the movie takes the time to establish itself and its characters. It starts off as a holiday Christmas movie with a dysfunctional family, and turns really sinister when young boy Max (Emjay Anthony) wishes hateful thoughts on them and inadvertently summons the demon and its minions. The fact that we get to know the characters helps us to care about them and root for them when the horror hits home. “Krampus” may not go down in history as a Christmas classic, but it is some darker counter-programming for the usually happy and festive holiday season. Rent it, and see if your family will watch it instead of “A Christmas Story” on TV.

More New Releases: “Son of Saul,” Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winner about an Auschwitz prisoner in 1944 tasked with burning the corpses of his own people and trying to salvage the body of a boy he believes is his son; “Sorcerer,” suspenseful nail biter from 1977, co-directed by William Friedkin and starring Roy Scheider, about a group of outcasts in South America who transport crates of highly unstable dynamite over rough terrain in rickety trucks; “Backtrack,” starring Adrien Brody as a psychologist who discovers that his patients are all ghosts; “Death Becomes Her,” underrated Robert Zemeckis comedy about two women (Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep) who discover the secret to immortality—and how it’s not such a great thing; and “Dolemite,” 1975 blaxploitation classic starring Rudy Ray Moore as one of the pimpinest pimps who ever pimped.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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