Monday, 30 May 2011

Review - Letter From An Unknown Woman (1948 - Dir. Max Ophuls)

Told from the perspective of Lisa (Joan Fontaine) this is a story of unrequited love. It is also a bit of a masterpiece. I can't say that I was really looking forward to it when I first watched it but it draws you in and sticks in your memory for a long time afterwards.

Stefan Brand (Louis Jourdan) is a concert pianist and a right one for the ladies. He comes into contact with Lisa throughout the film but he is so self-obsessed that he never actually sees her. We see the story through Lisa's memories of events, so her face is often bathed in light, as if she is his saviour. He sees her as just another notch on his Steinway. Because we are seeing her memories, Fontaine plays Lisa at every stage of her life, even down to the age of twelve. It is her perception of events and not reality we are watching.

Watching this makes you wish that black and white films were made more often now. The lighting and compositions are gorgeous with a great use of shadow. Echoes of past events are often used. Lisa watches Stefan enter his room, with yet another lady, from the top of a staircase. Later, we see her enter Stefan's room from the same viewpoint, telling us she is no different from his other lady friends.

I hadn't heard of this before and only came across it because I'd seen Rebecca, again with Joan Fontaine, and wondered what else she was in. I'm glad I did because this is a beautiful, poignant film that still holds up to this day.

If you like this you could try:
Le Plaisir, Rebecca, Gaslight, A Place in the Sun.

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