Letter from an Unknown Woman ★★★★

So marvelously complex, proposing a link between spectacle and romantic delusions. It's the only of Ophuls' American films to capture the dialecticalisms of his 1950's work, yet like those prior, remain true to its narrative constructs. Lisa doesn't just live in her fantasy world, she believes it to exist in the world - her first set of outings with Stefan: candle-lit dinners, horse-drawn carriage rides, Viennese waltzes. We see this all through memory, but its Ophuls' genius to have them resemble something out of a elaborate costume drama. This dialectialism is clear once we get to the fake train ride, at the fair. But Stefan is just as much a lost soul - at least in this memory, during their first series of rendevous's, he's more than happy to take part in Lisa's Hollywood dream world, they're both hopeless lost romantics - until Stefan gives up, drowns into cynicism and loses both himself and the responsibility he held towards Lisa and the child he does not even know about. Key moment - Stefan and Lisa dancing to a waltz after hours, lost in their shared fantasy, while the musicians become irate at their working overtime. They're so lost in the dream world that they're both shocked once they notice that the musicians have left.

(note: to those who have seen this - I am not trying to defend the character of Stefan! Who is a total POS!)

But both these dialectical elements and it's narrative ones actually stay separate, so we perceive the latter aspects emotionally and the former conceptually. Tag Gallagher's video essay on this articulates the narrative foregrounding better than my writing ever could, so here it is, also one of the best video essays ever: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Di1nFvAIB_0

In any case, it's not the final moments where Stefan has his great realization that's devastating, but everything that came before - Lisa telling herself that she's the one, that everything was meant to be, how she edits the heartbreak out of her life - the final passage of her first section of narration: "..if this reaches you, you will know how I became yours, when you didn't know who I was. Or even that I existed." It's a crushing and actually rather disturbing film.

Side note: I would have been 11 or 12 when I first saw this, as it was a favorite of my mothers (tfw cinephile parents) and few things in movies haunted me more than the final 'fade-out' of Lisa, now either a ghost, or the ghost of a memory. I remember my mom thinking that everything in the movie was so great, except for the ending - it should have been harder on Stefan!