Magazine article American Cinematographer

A Canterbury Tale

Magazine article American Cinematographer

A Canterbury Tale

Article excerpt

A Canterbury Tale (1944) 1.33:1(FuII Frame) Dolby Digital 1.0 The Criterion Collection, $39.95

Critic Andrew Sam's once referred to The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, the 1943 masterpiece by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, as the British Citizen Kane and even claimed to preterit to Welles' classic - while his colleague Dave Kehr declared it to be "quite possibly the greatest film ever made in Britain." The most remarkable thing about Blimp is not the fact that it easily justifies both of these assessments, but that its makers went on to write, produce, and direct six more equally great films during the following six years. To experience the vivid emotions and images of I Know Where I'm Going, The Red Shoes, or any of the other PowellPressburger films made between 1943 and 1949, is to encounter artists in total command of their medium - filmmakers with bold ideas and the technical skill to express them.

The second of these features, A Canterbury Tale, is also a triumphant achievement. Not an adaptation of Chaucer as much as a piece inspired by his sensibility, the film is a typically rich Powell-Pressburger meditation on love, duty, and patriotism. Set in the period when American soldiers were arriving in England to prepare for D-Day, the story follows three searchers: an American sergeant who longs for the woman he left back home; a recruit from the Women's Land Army mourning the death of her lover; and a resourceful British sergeant who joins forces with the other two to solve a crime in the small village where they all find themselves.

The mystery plot in the film is really just an excuse Powell and Pressburger use to examine issues both timely and timeless. The movie is intensely engaged with the concerns of its period, notably the complications that arose when American soldiers entered areas in which English women had been left alone by their own fighting men. Yet its exploration of the reasons we fight in the first place, and the price that both men and women pay, remains relevant and affecting today. This relevance is largely due to the filmmakers' overwhelming affection for their characters, all of whom are rendered with great complexity and care; even the movie's ostensible villain is granted moments of great dignity and poignancy.

Powell and Pressburger's generosity of spirit finds its perfect visual corollary in Erwin Millier, BSC's luminous cinematography. Each character is lovingly lit and framed, and every location shimmers with sunlit radiance. The film is an odd blend of documentary realism (in the form of scenes depicting the particulars of village life in great detail) and poetic stylization (the many romantic, melodramatic moments in which the characters expose their deepest feelings). …

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