Letter from an Unknown Woman (Max Ophüls, 1948)

Elegant, tender, sweet, sensual, romantic, mournful, tragic, sentimental, poetic, ahead of its time in its depiction (subtly, of course) of premarital sex and having children out of wedlock, and even a little creepy when you look at the stalker-ish subtexts, though very farfetched as coincidence after coincidence after extraordinary circumstance draw these two star-crossed lovers together and then tear them apart.  Joan Fontaine’s great, maturing before our eyes from shy teenager to mature woman, as the film subtly encompasses years…hell, maybe even decades in the lives of she and the musician she loves mainly from afar. I mean, just look at her behavior during their first big date in the park, as at first she can’t even look him in the eye and struggles to even put two words together – she became infatuated with him through a schoolgirl crush ever since he moved in next door, after all – and by the time they’re talking in the fake train car and then dancing she’s telling him her life’s story as if she’s known him her entire life.  Makes what happens afterwards, mainly through forces of nature and some odd choices by Fontaine’s character that sadly you really can’t begin to understand in the confines of a 90 minute film that much more unfortunate.  Fate and coincidence draw these two together too often in this story, which is why I couldn’t completely buy into it (although maybe that’s the point, that what befalls them is destiny…the Slumdog Millionaire motif   ), but still, the depiction of their relationship, or more like her obsessing over him from afar with the occasional meeting, is deliberate, dignified and enchanting – their meeting and re-meeting feels like a natural progression from glances to acquaintances to true romance.  Also, pretty late, there’s a scene of beyond-obvious foreshadowing that something terrible is soon to happen, but I give the film A LOT of credit for resisting the urge to pour on the melodrama and the waterworks – that inevitable tragedy is quick, subtle and off-screen, practically told to us in hindsight.  As a result, we, like the reader of the letter, feel cruelly distant from that tragedy, making it all the more, well, tragic.  Fine piece of gamut-of-emotion, yet surprisingly restrained and graceful cinema, this.


No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: