As a nerdy kid, I was of course familiar with books by Austrian literary giant Stefan Zweig - his 1930s biographies of royalty affected me greatly and probably made me history enthusiast for life, but curiously, I never read this particular novel because the title didn't appeal to me. Now, after this movie was recommended to me and I enjoyed it greatly, my curiosity is tickled since allegedly Hollywood did their typical reconstruction and tampered with the original story in order to whitewash potentially scandalous subject.
Lovely as it is - and its perfectly magical to watch, with a beautiful cinematography and unforgettable images - "Letter from an Unknown Woman" is one of those rare classics that are really triumph of style over substance: story itself (told mostly in flashbacks) is quite silly and melodramatic saga about unknown woman obsessed and so besotted with a seductive neighbour that she throws herself at him, while he is not even aware of her. Back in 1948. audiences probably found this all very romantic, but today her character appears quite unhinged and definitely masochistic. Give it to wonderful German director Max Ophüls to create a true beauty out of this mess - this is my first encounter with his work and guy was true genius, not only that he skillfully and artistically weaves magic but somehow everything looks so dreamy and beautiful that we are caught up in it without asking any questions. From the very beginning to the end, Vienna looks nothing like real geographical place but directors dream of what Vienna should look like - cobblestone streets, rain pouring on the rooftops, labyrinth of strange apartments where one opens window into another apartment and soaks in the sounds (& smells, probably), amusement parks, dance halls, its all like a stardust.
In hindsight, real star of the movie is its director although in 1948. all the praise was heaped on Joan Fontaine and her transformations from a teenage girl to a full grown woman and mother. Strangely enough, I couldn't care less for her character - despite the fact that movie is created around her - finding her not romantic but neurotic and even slightly retarded. Everything about her lovelorn gazes, sighs, smiles and open mouth acutely embarrasses me today - let's face it, she is a stalker - but curiously, my attention was focused on Louis Jourdan whom I understand much better. He is debonair man of style and grace, who has his own problems and actually grows as character much more trough the movie (where Fontaine only matures outwardly) - he even made me think of my younger self and how many times I toyed with affections, blinded by confidence of youth, not giving a slightest thought about consequences. Frankly, if I have a neighbour who plays Franz Liszt so seductively trough the night, I would probably roll myself in that carpet. And how cool it is to have a mute servant? (In my next life I want to be Jourdan and definitely I need a mute servant). Marcel Journet is excellent as a genuinely nice, silently suffering husband living with self-delusional wife. Just think for a moment, what kind of a future Jourdan and Fontaine would have if they actually lived together - he would probably got tired of her and she would sit on the stairs, wallowing in her masochism, until somebody sweeps her away with a broom.