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MAY 14 TO 19
Britain’s filmmakers have produced some indelible moments: multi-ethnic mobsters at war in the East End, two Swansea pill freaks staging a sea burial for a still-breathing class enemy, a Glasgow junkie climbing into the world’s filthiest toilet. But this retrospective doesn’t salute that British cinema. The series’ most recent film (and also its worst) is 1981’s Chariots of Fire, an overblown sports flick that got inordinate credit for admitting that not all Brits are Christians (at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 19, and 5:30 p.m. Sunday, May 20). The others were all made between 1945 and 1962, a more fruitful period that produced David Lean’s Brief Encounter, Frank Lauder’s The Happiest Days of Your Life (both at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, May 17, and 7:45 p.m. Sunday, May 20), and Ralph Smart’s Quartet (at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 16, and 1 p.m. Sunday, May 20). Also included are Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s A Matter of Life and Death (aka Stairway to Heaven, pictured), an account of a World War II pilot called prematurely to heaven, where his “trial” becomes a debate on the very meaning of Britishness (at 6:30 p.m. Monday, May 14, and 8:45 p.m. Tuesday, May 15); Jack Clayton’s Room at the Top, which startled viewers by alleging that Brits have both a working class and sex (at 8:30 p.m. Monday, May 14, and 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 15); Carol Reed’s Odd Man Out (at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 16, and 3:15 p.m. Sunday, May 20), whose manhunt for a wounded Irish rebel pointed the way to The Third Man;
The Man in the White Suit, an unusually pointed Ealing comedy in which the invention of an indestructible fabric threatens a variety of industries (at 6:30 p.m. Friday, May 18, and 4:15 p.m. Saturday, May 19); and the full cut of Lawrence of Arabia, the apotheosis of Lean’s epic style (at 8 p.m. Friday, May 18, and Saturday, May 19). The festival runs at the American Film Institute’s National Film Theater, in the Kennedy Center’s Hall of States. $6.50. (202) 467-4600. (Mark Jenkins)