The video cover proclaims that FLAMES OF PASSION is a witty deconstruction of the masterly BRIEF ENCOUNTER. It is nothing of the sort. Lean's film is achingly romantic, with a submerged passion, aware of the deep need for transgression, and ruefully admitting of its impossibility. Its writer, Noel Coward, was himself gay, fully aware that his fame rested on a campness whose reality could have landed him in jail. Laura's defeat at the end is not supported by the film - it is a great tragedy. David Lean has a noble record of criticism against repression. BRIEF ENCOUNTER is, therefore, already a camp classic. There is something patronising about the idea that the film needs to be deconstructed, improved, its supposedly 'antique' ideology made acceptable for modern audiences.
To be honest, I don't think this was the film's intention, and its director may be slightly embarrassed by the video's description. The similarities with BRIEF ENCOUNTER do not appear to extend far beyond the fact that it is set in a railway station, which is modern and antiseptic, not as smokily romantic as the 1945 film.
The story concerns a smart, professional commuter, who through chance and unwilling persistance becomes involved with a man who seemingly leaves cryptic clues for him, eventually culminating in a proposal of marriage. This idea of a detective story, which suggest a power over time and fate (on the part of the detective) is the most obvious differentiation from BRIEF ENCOUNTER, whose characters were utterly trapped by those terrifying abstractions.
The short is divided into seven sections, each representing a day of the week, figuring the professional's clean, rigid life, which is rudely shattered by desire. The authority he initially has over his life falters as he gives into this desire and imagination begins to enter the equation, as it may never have done before, blowing apart his reassuring coordinates of time and space. Reality and dream merge, and the narrative momentum, as well as the stylistic clarity, become increasingly blurred, undermining the eventual resolution. On the one level, the happiness denied Laura and Alec seems to be available to the film's protagonists; but the unreliability of the film's reality makes us question this complacent assumption. This pragmatism means the film has perhaps more in common with its model than it would care to admit. The director's feature debut would be LOVE AND DEATH IN LONG ISLAND, which tackles similar themes more conventionally.
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