Brief Encounter (1945)

Brief Encounter (1945), directed by David Lean.

It begins at the end: a man and a woman in a railway diner, very sad. This is obviously good-bye, their last meeting. Whatever they might have said is ruined by the arrival of a noisy gossiping woman, so they don't have their final moments in private.

The rest of the movie is shown in flash-backs of the previous few weeks. They met in the same place. Both are married. We never meet his family but we do see hers and she obviously loves them: good kids, decent if dull husband.

The love affair is emotional; they never cross into physical infidelity, although we have close calls. But even that restrained, repressed degree requires lying and generates paranoia. Lying is too easy once you start. It can't go on.

In the end we have a few minor miracles: that they end it with some amount of dignity, that her sudden urge to suicide is prevented by she doesn't know what, and finally that her husband, although not aware of the details, understands and forgives.

This is a great classic "women's picture" and shows up on many "Best British Films" lists. Tremendously sensitive performances by Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard. The soapy nature of the story is improved by a screenplay that moves along, lovely photography, and clever lighting and transitions.

In this case I think the massive locomotives roaring through the train-yard are less of a sexual metaphor and more about the impersonal, frantic energy of modern life, leaving no time to think or stop and enjoy the moment. Their greatest act of rebellion is to break the timetables, missing their trains.

From a Noel Coward play.

Criterion Blu-ray.