Letter from an Unknown Woman Screen 9 articles

Letter from an Unknown Woman

1948

Letter from an Unknown Woman Poster
  • Lisa spends 20 odd years chasing after a clod who can’t quite seem to remember her name, even after a one-off encounter that begets one of those annoying movie kids whose treacly cuteness assures us that he’s doomed. Feels trite compared to the grand, tragedies of Madame de or Lola, which add a little more Death in Venice style menace to their tales of doomed fixation.

  • ...This masterpiece nearly defines the film melodrama, complete with the genre's often implausible twists--the lover who fails to remember a former flame, the child a father never knew was his, the train compartment contaminated with typhus. But Ophuls brings to life this story of the tragically selfless love of Lisa (Joan Fontaine) for Stefan (Louis Jourdan), a dissolute pianist in turn-of-the-century Vienna, with imagery that's at once convincingly rapturous and humorously down-to-earth.

  • LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN deserves to be considered alongside Max Ophuls' final French masterpieces (LA RONDE through LOLA MONTES), with which it shares extended tracking shots, romantic nostalgia for turn-of-the-century Europe, and a profound understanding of human affairs... No matter how compromised Ophuls' characters are revealed to be, the sheer beauty of his form—which can suggest both architecture and choreography—always finds value in their passion.

  • Ophüls's direction is, as ever, florid and extravagant, stopping just short of ostentatious, which for some might indicate some sort of betrayal against Lisa's cradle-to-grave reticence (which is so pronounced that one could be forgiven for thinking, during the film's earliest scenes, that she's been bilocated over from Johnny Belinda).

  • Ophuls's 17th film but his first true masterpiece (beginning a seven-film run of nothing but masterpieces, ending only with his premature death at 54), Letter is a Hollywood film but closer in spirit to his later French romances than to his other American melodramas. In fact, its timeless sense of Proustian Euro-lostness is essentially unique, making it a film experience that writes its own narrative rules and crafts its own ideas of fate and l'amour fou.

  • The first time I saw Letter from an Unknown Woman, I admired its craft and atmosphere but hated the story, about a woman who wastes her life in abject devotion to an unworthy man. A decade later I saw the film again, and found it as different as the heroine finds her beloved after ten years. Now it was not a tale of unrequited love, but a devastating anatomy of the illusions that lie at the heart of romance and even at the heart of our identities.

  • The subject of “Letter from an Unknown Woman” is the essence of character as it can be discerned from appearances, and Ophüls’s bravura camerawork and decorative sense conjure an exquisitely calibrated romanticism. Like Zweig, Ophüls knew the virtues of the world of yesterday; perhaps even more than Zweig, he also saw the vices that kept him from unmitigated nostalgia.

  • The movie “Letter From an Unknown Woman” shows Zweig and Ophüls at their best. . . . “Letter From an Unknown Woman” is so beautifully self-contained that, were it not for Ophüls’s choreographed camera movement, it might have been filmed in a snow globe.

  • Ophuls’s adaptation took the form of shaping his material visually and aurally, expanding what might have been seen as “novelettish” stories into something both grander and more intense, even multi-dimensional. He uses camera movement and perspective to chart the shift in a character’s position and point of view, so that we are both with and outside of them simultaneously.

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