Letter from an Unknown Woman

A turn-of-the-century Vienna set, with its spiral staircases, mirrors, and elaborate grillwork, becomes a haunting chiaroscuro canvas for cinematographer Franz Planer and a thematic showcase for Max and his tracks in this classic Hollywood “woman's picture.” Joan Fontaine, an actress who seemed to make a specialty out of aggressive docility, a fugitive posture, portrays a young woman, Lisa, who builds an adolescent infatuation into a lifelong passion for a concert pianist (Louis Jourdan) who is barely aware of her existence. Lisa's life is like the carnival ride that takes the couple, on their only night together, through the countries of Europe, a fantasy of movement that is really a circular stasis, propelled by a bemused pedaler/director. Lisa's story, told via a posthumous letter, is more troubling than it is romantic, a story for which death is the only neat closure.

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