Philandering concert pianist Stefan arrives home to find a letter which begins 'by the time you read this I may be dead'. So unfolds the story of Lisa, one of many woman with whom he had shared a brief encounter over the years and swiftly forgotten. Her life has been spent loving him unfalteringly and now he would learn the truth about his past.
"Honour is a luxury I can't afford"
- Letter from an Unknown Woman review by WS
(1) of (1) members found this review helpful.
You rated this film: 5
A truly majestic viewing experience - especially if you're lucky enough, as I was, enough to catch a one-off big screen showing - thanks to gorgeous set design, expert use of light and shade, and the ingenious tracking shots giving the viewer a sense of involvement in the story.
Often labelled a "weepie", this hardly sums it up for me. Lisa's infatuation with the dissolute, womanising Stefan may be reprehensible but there's nothing maudlin about it. She is completely ruthless and single-minded about pursuing the object of her desire, at the expense of scandalising her mother and father in law, and later, catastrophically affecting the lives of other people around her.
During Lisa and Stefan's night together, we sense a growing intimacy between them and a feeling that perhaps they are meant to be together - but is it all an illusion? Stefan disappears from Lisa's life with no explanation. At a chance meeting 10 years on, he seems dejected, vulnerable and needy. Is Stefan really just a heartless Lothario who feigns affection when it suits him? Is he confused about what he wants from life? Does he even hate himself?
A few things have changed since the Fin de Siecle epoch that the film brings to life - typhus has been vanquished for a start - but I felt there was something oddly contemporary about the depiction of a rootless, ephemeral world in which trust and genuineness have gone out of the window.
You could fault it on plot development - in particular, it skates over how Lisa coped in the early years of being a single parent with no family support and before the Welfare State - and it might lose some of its impact on the small screen, but with these caveats I'm awarding it 5 stars.