Monday, August 19, 2013

Letter from an Unknown Woman

"By the time you read this letter, I may be dead." That is the first sentence from the eponymous letter in Max Ophuls' Letter from an Unknown Woman. The letter, addressed to pianist Stefan Brand (Louis Jourdan), is from Lisa Brendl (Joan Fontaine), a woman from Brand's past.

The film proceeds to follow how Lisa first met and fell in love with Brand. She admits that Brand is the only man she was ever in love with. (The early interactions between them show Lisa as someone too shy to admit her true feelings.)  By today's standards some of Lisa's early behavior may come off as something resembling stalking, but Fontaine actually plays Lisa as a woman too sheltered to express herself. (Vocally, at least. Her face by its lonesome says a thousand words.)

Making a simple film about romance isn't easy. How can you make a film in this genre without it slipping into melodrama? Ophuls manages to make the melodramatic nature of Letter from an Unknown Woman into an art form, much in the same way Douglas Sirk did in the following decade. In the wrong hands, Letter from an Unknown Woman would be an overwrought attempt at romance. But in Ophuls' hands, it's visual poetry.

Speaking of visual poetry, Ophuls isn't the only one who had a hand in it. The combination of Franz Planer's cinematography and Alexander Golitzen's art direction is simply gorgeous. And yet they also provide an ethereal aura for the film as well. It's a nice touch.

Letter from an Unknown Woman is one of those films I knew very little about prior to watching and ended up falling in love with. Everything about it just works beautifully. This is one of those films that everyone should see at least once in their lifetime. Seriously, go and see it.

My Rating: *****

1 comment:

  1. I found this movie a couple of weeks ago and was immensely intrigued by its title -- just that and knowing Joan Fontaine is in it was enough for me. As always, I trust your judgement, so this is moving up on my watchlist.


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