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Robert and Catherine have a quiet little marriage until WWII separates them for three years. Serving in the navy dramatically transforms both of them and they realize how much they resented their old mundane life together. Both dread their inevitable reunion and separately decide to ask for a divorce, but is the marriage really over? Written by
a quiet treasure--should be on anyone's list of romance films
"Perfect Strangers" was made in war-scarred Britain in 1945 and it has that unmistakable flavour and appeal of the small, b&w 1940's English pictures of the time--trustworthy, tender without being sentimental, sweet, reticent, and positive. The epitome of the wartime film designed to boost people's morale.
Like many pre-50's films that catch my interest, it has the charming buoyancy of that other, (and now otherworldly) WWII era--before Twentieth Century attitudes had crystallized into their currently cold, disaffected, and jaundiced condition that forms our modern outlook. Films like "Perfect Strangers" (also known as "Vacation from Marriage") are the perfect antidote--tiny time capsules of hopefulness, naivete, and innocence that, certainly in the art of the cinema, can't be achieved anymore, no matter what the budget.
Robert Donat and Deborah Kerr are well cast and their performances seem effortlessly on-the-mark in this film. The two play a shy, humdrum, and rather ineffectual couple living in London during the Blitz. Kerr is a glum housewife to the staid, stodgy Donat, who works meekly in London as a bank teller.
Even though around them all is chaos in the city, they are frozen, as it were, in their daily routines: work, eat, sleep. These are two people to whom nothing much ever happens. Their marriage is in a rut but they dont know it. They are vaguely dissatisfied with themselves, but they dont know why. Each is right on the edge of being bored with the another. Certainly they are both bored with their lives.
(This is one of those couples of a type that one still encounters today--a pair of simple, unimaginative souls that, in the first flush of romance, dont envision needing anything more out of life than being married to each other).
But their dull routines are suddenly shaken up by wartime events--both are unexpectedly called to active service. This turn of events falls like a bolt of lightning on the couple. Donat reluctantly enters the Navy as an able seaman, and Kerr becomes a WREN. The story picks up pace from this point on. The two agree to keep in touch and meet whenever they are on leave.
However, both soon have their hands full trying to adjust to the rigors of service life: not just the hazards of wartime but more importantly, the trials of intense, abrupt socialization with their new comrades.
Each undergoes a separate transformation of character: they make friends, win esteem from their peers, prove themselves to be fit and able in all of their duties and even distinguish themselves in the war effort. In short, they thrive in their unexpected "vacation" and in the process, discover all sorts of things about themselves that they never would have guessed previously.
When it comes time for the couple to meet up again, each dreads having the old marriage relations reestablished. Each assumes the other has not changed or developed in any way. (Both Donat and Kerr are even getting tempting offers and romantic attentions from others at this point).
When they meet, in one of the sweetest moments in the film, they fail to even recognize each other. Its how the two get back together which comprises the rest of the storyline of the film.
Its a little treasure of a film: well-made, un-selfconscious, unassuming, and hits its mark perfectly. If you like a simple, honest story about people and people in love, give it a try.
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