Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948)

by guest writer

Letter from an Unknown Woman used as script source the novel ,,Brief einer Unbekannten” by Stefan Zweig. The movie recreates with a gorgeous intensity the beginning of the 20th century in Vienna. Max Ophüls succeeds to create with Letter from an Unknown Woman a remarkably balanced masterpiece treating the subject with a certain compassion that will never repeat itself in the cinema’s history. The film seems to formulate a bond between Lisa Berndle (Joan Fontaine) and the viewer, often making the last identify with the character’s desires. Letter from an Unknown Woman is at the same time a vehement critic of the notion of romantic love and attacks the very core of the ideology.

Nevertheless, the movie is an inexhaustible rich piece of cinema. Karl Koch’s mise-en-scene indicates the insipid everyday reality beyond the surface and the cinematography, with its subtle camera movements, suggests a cognitive perspective that looks to escape the characters’ grasp at first. Not the last pieces in this beautiful puzzle are the muddling narrative used to recount the flashbacks, the continuum unfolding decades, the missing key years which are bypassed with such craftsmanship and the key haunting objects, one of which is Stefan’s (played by Louis Jourdan) staircase that leads to his apartment. The themes approached by the movie are as intimate as they are shocking for the time of its release and all is done by using suggestion and the viewer’s involvement.

photos: screen stills from the film, captured for Classiq, production credits

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