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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Relationships > Quest > Science > Foreign > Propaganda > Soviet > Russia > Letter Never Sent (1959/Criterion Collection Blu-ray)

Letter Never Sent (1959/Criterion Collection Blu-ray)


Picture: B     Sound: C+     Extras: C+     Film: B



Mikhail Kalatozov became the next major, great Soviet/Russian filmmaker after the likes of Eisenstein and just before the arrival of Andrei Tarkovsky, especially with the huge international success of The Cranes Are Flying (1957, issued a while ago by Criterion on DVD and hopefully soon on Blu-ray) and he followed that with Letter Never Sent (1959), which is now on Blu-ray from Criterion.  Just as compelling as his previous film, a four person geological group goes to Siberia to find diamonds for the motherland, but instead find conflict, harsh elements and other unexpected events that interfere with their plans early on.


Not that they are not smart or do not know what they are doing, but this sometimes surreal film is somewhat of a character study, yet fits into the group mentality such cinema had at the time and gets away with certain sentimentality (romance and love are considered decadent, so maybe those involved in that aspect are being punished for being human?) and the quest intended is still the order of the day and night et al.


At 96 minutes, the film is tight and never wastes the audience’s time, with Kalatozov in his element as the film moves with a flow that shows he is in total control of his film.  The actors are as good as they are convincing and I like the interesting ways they are shot and lit, which tells us more than the dialogue or letter writing alone can.  Even with some propaganda going on here, the overall film (53 years after it was made and 23 since the USSR collapsed) far exceeded any of that pretense and is far better than so many commercial (and bad Hollywood variants lately, in particular) of the same situation.  It may seem simple and a simple idea, even with a simple start, but Letter Never Sent eventually delivers more than you would ever suspect and is a Russian Cinema classic that all serious film fans should consider a must-see.



The 1080p 1.33 X 1 black and white digital High Definition image transfer comes from a new 35mm print than looks better than any previous edition or footage I have seen, with better detail and depth overall.  Longtime Kalatozov Director of Photography Sergei Urusevsky takes every approach possible with the people and their environment to further the narrative visually and it makes the whole situation more intense and involving as a result.  Video Black and Gray Scale are as good as they are going to get and that is good.  The uncompressed PCM 1.0 Mono comes from a 35mm optical soundtrack positive, but despite the cleaning up of that track, it still shows its age and sonic limits.  Still, this is cleaner than better for the most part than before and Nicolai Kryukov’s score is as effective as it is interesting.


Extras include another nicely illustrated booklet on the film including informative text as usual with Criterion including tech info and an essay by film scholar Dina Iordanova, but this is one of those rare Criterion Blu-rays with no supplemental material on the actual disc.


Kalatozov sadly only made two more films, including a landmark film that was pulled after its release and a big epic with Sean Connery that was a big screen epic production.  You can read about them at these links.


I Am Cuba: The Ultimate Edition



The Red Tent




-   Nicholas Sheffo


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