Starring: Joan Fontaine, Louis Jourdan, Mady Christians
Director: Max Ophüls
Running Time: 86 mins
Letter From An Unknown Woman is an American film about a woman who, years after spending time with a man she has loved from afar since a young age, writes a letter professing her love for him, and the long-term consequences of her brief affair with him.
A touching tale of heartache and unrequited love, Letter From An Unknown Woman is both wonderfully sweet and oh-so painful to watch, relating the inevitable tragedy of a lifelong love unfulfilled. With a gorgeous lead performance from Joan Fontaine, and a sweeping, elegant style that allows the film to unfold like a beloved storybook.
The fable-esque qualities of Letter From An Unknown Woman aren’t accidental either. Set amongst the ornate and often snowy backdrop of some of Austria’s most beautiful cities at the turn of the 20th century, the film absolutely has the appearance of a fairytale, which allows it to play with dough-eyed, melodramatic romance and emotions that more ‘realistic’ films may not have the chance to rely on.
Of course, this isn’t a fantasy, but a brutally honest tale of unrequited love. Despite its fairytale backdrop, elegant cinematic style, and a wonderfully sweet performance from Joan Fontaine, as an innocent, lovestruck fair maiden not unlike Snow White herself, Letter From An Unknown Woman deals with heartache in the most captivating and heart-wrenching way.
Just like Fontaine in the lead role, you’re whisked up in this whirlwind of romance and puppy love for the dashing pianist next door from the first moment. Simulating the emotions of unrequited love so brilliantly, this film fully engrosses you in Fontaine’s feelings throughout, and you feel the euphoric highs just as strongly as the devastating lows.
And despite its short runtime, the film has all the scale and grandeur of an epic that tells the story of a lifetime. Taking place over years, and with the overarching worldwide context of the early 20th century looming overhead, there’s a majestic, sweeping sense of drama to this film, which makes its heart-wrenching emotion all the more affecting.
Overall, I was absolutely captivated by Letter From An Unknown Woman. A touching and honest story of heartache and unrequited love, the film uses its elegant style, fairytale backdrop and lead performance to wonderful effect, delivering an enchanting but still emotionally draining story. So, that’s why I’m giving it a 7.7.