Letter from an Unknown Woman ★★★★

In my impression, this beautiful doomed romance is the movie other people see when they look at Brief Encounter that I always felt embarrassed for not locating in that film's staid dignity. Without fully giving in to any more than a suggestion of the raw sexuality that drives it, it puts the viewer's heart completely in sync with that of Joan Fontaine's Lisa, who's longed since adolescence for the promiscuous musician next door, a star-crossed passion that alters the course of her life. Surging with pain and desire, Max Ophuls' camera captures the simultaneous haze and detail of extreme lust as it lives in memory, which is exactly what the screenplay means to evoke (almost entirely patterned on the structure of a letter from Lisa recounting the whole story to her object of love and despair). Fontaine is exquisite as always, Louis Jourdan not quite as deep or credible but certainly physically believable as the source of this kind of longing; Ophuls makes a laughingstock of the Code by taking its patriarchal rules over the top. The only real flaw is one the picture shares with a portion of Rossellini's Paisan: the unlikelihood of a person being completely unable to recognize a onetime lover. Maybe I haven't slept around enough.