Meeting a stranger in a railway station, a woman is tempted to cheat on her husband.
My first film from 1945 as far as I know. I selected it for no other reason than it happened to be the highest rated on this list. As good a place to start as any. I figured in watching films this old I really have no tastes or preferences that apply in terms of being able to pick something that suits me. Who are these actors? Who are these writers and directors? I don't know. Even trusting to a preferred genre seems iffy. Old as these films are I can hardly expect them to possess the qualities that up till now have made me, say, a western fan, or for that matter someone who dislikes noir. For all intents and purposes I'm going in blind... I'm just bringing a bunch of modern baggage.
For a good example of how modern sensibilities can affect an experience with an old film you don't have to look to far. It happened to me watching Brief Encounter. I went in totally blind, so even the central affair, which is the whole subject of the movie, was only unveiled to me at the film's discretion. A woman and a man off in the corner of a diner look to be having a serious conversation. We never hear what they were discussing so quietly because an old lady friend of the woman's barges in and interrupts, and they clearly do not feel it is a topic that can be discussed in front her. From the man and woman's body language you can see they are anxious and put off by this interruption, but also cannot find an appropriate pretense for requesting to be left alone. Eventually the man's train arrives and he has to leave. You can see he wants to give a more intimate farewall to the woman, but in the presence of the old woman he simply pats her shoulder as say goodbye. The woman sits there blankly, while the old woman prattles on.
All of this sudden tight-lippedness and restraint in front of the acquaintance suggests that this couple does not want their relationship to be broadcast. It might find it's way back to someone. To who? To their spouses you assume, without having to make a great leap. What happens next is where the baggage I spoke of comes in. The woman is overcome with a fainting spell. Her acquaintance gets her some brandy to brace her. Eventually they get on their train together and again the woman appears ill. Ever since the man left she has looked absolutely devastated. All of these events: the serious and difficult discussion the couple appeared to be having; this fainting spell and feeling sick; the reasonable assumption they are having an affair; and the degree of devastation and pain on this womans face... I came to the conclusion that the woman was pregnant. It was especially all these small instances of feeling sick. I thought for sure it was a not so subtle nod to the woman's experiencing "morning sickness". And it was this pregnancy, which would ultimately make her affair known to her husband, or the prospect of lying about whose baby it was, and which nothing could be done about, and the fear of what would happen to the marriage and the child, which must explain just why this woman looked just so sad. I can't emphasize enough how broken hearted she looked. She arrives home eventually, and we see she does indeed have a husband... and kids.
So this is where I stood 10 or 12 minutes into the film... at which point the movie flashes back to the beginning of the story... the origins of this affair. And I was thinking, as anyone would, now we learn how this woman found herself in this mess. And the movie recounts how she met the man, and how their relationship developed. And eventually it works it's way back around to where the film began, and to the man touching her shoulder and saying goodbye. Only now we're seeing it in the context of knowing everything about their relationship up to that point, and why he is saying goodbye forever. Except something was missing! In all that time, from when they first met to now, they never actually had sex! Which means she's not actually pregnant. And all of this looking absolutely devastated, and feeling sick, and needing brandy, and moping about, and breaking out crying, ALL OF IT was simply about having entertained the idea of cheating on her husband, and having fallen in love with another man, and that man now leaving!
Calm down lady! You didn't even take your jacket off, let alone your clothes. You kissed him, what, twice? I've seen pictures of holocaust survivors that look less haunted than she does over an affair that never was.
So there it is, my modern baggage in play. As a viewer I'm sitting there thinking it's not really a big deal and she's sitting there about to die of heartbreak and shame. My mental trajectory for where this film was going was SOOO much more extreme than where it actually went. Because why? Well, partly because this doesn't qualify as a scandal nowadays. But more than that, because the movie decided to start with the ending. Had the film simply been played straight, I never would've been led astray by her starting out the movie looking mortified and then left to wonder why. 900 years later that editing choice is still used, and it still isn't good. Please stop.
It really effected my experience because it made the whole middle of the film feel really slow. I mean it was slow anyways, but when your expecting it to ramp up to a point it never intends to go to, it feels REALLY slow.
I dunno... I don't think this movie really works very well. I like that it has some voice over narration but again, the bulk of it is up front before the flashback, and would be more emotionally powerful in it's proper place once you have context. In general the idea of hearing the thoughts of someone who is embarking on an affair, and conflicted about it, is compelling. The VO kind of stops once the story begins from the beginning unfortunately. And in the development phase of their relationship, while they are out watching films or rowing boats or drinking tea, it's pretty run of the mill stuff. It establishes a growing chemistry, but I didn't find it entertaining in a vicarious way.
A bumpy start. I suspect it will be hard to find performances that I enjoy from this year... the way people act is so different. I think I'm more likely to appreciate a well-done caricature performance.