Letter From An Unknown Woman

Director: Max Ophuls

1948

Letter From An Unknown WomanLetter from an Unknown Womanis an inexhaustibly rich film, one that has drawn myriad film lovers to try to unravel its themes, patterns, suggestions, and ironies. But no amount of close analysis can ever extinguish the rich, tearing emotion that this masterpiece elicits.” (224, Adrian Martin, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) I think the word masterpiece gets thrown around far too often – to the point that it loses its meaning. And Letter from an Unknown Woman does not warrant the title of masterpiece as Martin claims.

I have discovered another genre, along with the dreary Western genre, that does absolutely nothing for me … and it’s Melodramas. I don’t see the point in melodramas and am glad that it is a genre that seems to have faded from popularity.

“Either the staging reveals the banal conditions of reality that underwrite these flights of fantasy, or the camera suggests – in subtle positionings and movements slightly detached from the story’s world – a knowing perspective that eludes the characters.” (224) I liked the concept of telling the story through the use of flashbacks. Ophuls actually spans a couple of decades very neatly. We only learn what we need to about the characters in order to move the narrative along without being bogged down with any unnecessary information. It is the only aspect of the film I appreciated.

As viewers we learn very little about Stefan and his character. We only ever see him through Lisa’s eyes so our opinion is automatically skewed by her infatuation with him. As such I was left with the feeling that his character was undefined and incomplete which is partly why I found the film as tedious as I did. While we learn more about Lisa, basically her whole life, thanks to the flashbacks bringing her letter to life, I did not connect with her at all. I did not find her plight romantic in the slightest. What began as a childhood crush developed into something on an unhealthy obsessions with Stefan. I was left with the impression of a stalker rather than any sort of romantic overtone which in turn made me uncomfortable. That seems to be a common occurrence when I watch a film belonging to the melodrama genre.

“By the time Ophuls reaches a Hollywood staple – the ghostlike apparition of young Lisa at last conjured in Stefan’s memory – the cliché is gloriously transcended, and tears overcome even those modern viewers who resist such old-fashioned “soaps.” (224) It’s safe to say I was not overcome with tears as Martin presumes viewers are, not even remotely. The only tears I was close to shedding were tears of boredom. Quite an impressive feat for a film less than 90 minutes long!

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