Dir. Max Ophuls. USA. 1948.

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One of Ophuls considered masterpieces along with 'Charged' and 'The Reckless Moment' is being given a full re-release on the big screen in time for Valentine's Day. A memorable story of unrequited love, love gained and love lost; how love can blind, how love can change you, how love can make you complete and how love can take away from you.
A passion project of leading lady, Joan Fontaine who plays the lead character Lisa Berndle who is so enamoured with concert pianist Stefan Brand (Louis Jourdan), that she forgives him for not remembering her on not once but two seperate occasions.  Heartbroken, Lisa returns to her son by Stefan, and writes him a letter confessing her undying love for him.
Shot in the stylistic manner of film noir that would be more apparent in his following two films, but with luscious cinematography making parts of the film appear like a dream whilst not stretching the belief of reality.
There are some fabulous performances, especially by Fontaine who embodies the idealism of the doe-eyed girl into an elegant woman, by this point Fontaine had already won an Academy award, and this role speaks of an actor entrusted with a sympathetic role but confidently nailing the emotional centre.  Jourdan, all suave and charm, is especially self-deprecating able to hide underneath some self-dissatisfaction in himself despite his caddishness.
Moments of brilliant sheer beauty (credit to Franz Planer's camera) awash the film coupled with beautiful renditions of music incorporting the works of Liszt, Mozart and Wagner and the script is a winning one by the pen of Howard Koch, the man who wrote 'Casablanca'.  A forgotten gem from the classic Hollywood years that needs to be found and re-appraised.
LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN, A BFI release on 12 February 2010 at bfi Southbank and selected cinemas around the country.

Jamie Garwood

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