Movie Fifty Eight
Letter Never Sent is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen and I had never even heard of it before Criterion announced it for release. It is a semi-lost gem of Russian filmmaking that I am still thinking about.
The film follows four Russian geologists who get dumped in Siberia to find diamonds for the government. As they spend more time together we learn more about their relationships with each other. The titular letter is something I won’t spoil. Immediately following their discovery they become trapped by an enormous fire and have to survive to get the information back to Moscow. The plot is fairly simple but the interaction between the geologists is incredibly realistic and touching. In fact, the entire thing is extremely realistic.
The fire is almost its own character. Before the geologists become trapped there is a raging fire superimposed over them. The camera work is also practically its own character. The shots are either close or distant and at times it almost seems like a documentary. The acting is so flawless it seems like everything was done in one single take and the actors are really trying to survive the Siberian wilderness. Letter Never Sent is unrelenting as a tale of survival.
Writing about Letter Never Sent truly makes me want to watch the film again and also find more films by the director and cinematographer, Mikhail Kalatozov and Sergei Urusevsky, respectively. Although the film is from the early 60s there is really no Russian propaganda to speak of, other than the devotion of these four geologists to their homeland.
I give it 5 surviving geologists out of 5.