Saturday, 28 April 2018

Letter from an Unknown Woman by Max Ophuls

“For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: 'It might have been!'” 
(John Greenleaf Whittier) 

This is the story of Letter from an Unknown Woman: Stefan Brand, a once-successful and charming pianist in Vienna, has lived his whole life surrounded by women, but never found love. 1 day he receives a letter from an unknown woman, who since her teenage years has loved him her whole life. Her name is Lisa. The infatuation starts when he moves into the same building and she listens to his music—in her youthful innocence, Lisa decides that she is his and they are going to be together, even though he doesn’t know she exists. Then life happens and she has to move away, but her heart is still in Vienna, and several years later, she comes back to Vienna, and every evening after work, goes to his building. Once, Stefan notices her, they start to talk—to her, he’s utterly charming; to him, she’s a mysterious woman he has perhaps seen somewhere who seems to have always known him and know him well, and he’s drawn to her. They go on a date and talk and laugh and have fun, and then go to his apartment. 
Then Stefan Brand has to go on a concert tour for 2 weeks. Just 2 weeks and he’ll come back. Except that he doesn’t. Life, success, the tour, other women, for whatever reasons, or maybe he just doesn’t care, he forgets about Lisa. 
Up to this point, the film feels melodramatic, because of Lisa’s infatuation and obsession, but there’s a turn, as she becomes pregnant but, knowing Stefan’s indifference, chooses not to let him know. Lisa accepts it and moves on, raises her son, and gets married—for years, all that is left of Stefan Brand in her life seems to be the son, until 1 day by chance she meets him again… 
That is enough for summary of the plot, you get the idea. The theme of the film is beautifully summed up in this line from Lisa’s letter to Stefan Brand: 
“If only you could have recognised what was always yours, could have found what was never lost.” 
What can be sadder? Stefan spends his whole life looking for something, but never realises that it’s always been right there in front of him, until it’s gone. The film is moving and poignant. 
However, I am cold and cynical. Or maybe just realistic. The idea of something that might have been is always better than the way it could actually be. We say if only he could have recognised what was always his and could have found what was never lost, but he never did because that’s how he is—self-centred, thoughtless, superficial, and forgetful. We also know Lisa loves him to the day she dies because they were never really together, because it’s mostly her loving him from afar, because she doesn’t really love him, just the idea of him.


  1. it makes me think of Frost's poem about the fork in the road and it making all the difference...

  2. The Road Not Taken

    TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
    And sorry I could not travel both
    And be one traveler, long I stood
    And looked down one as far as I could
    To where it bent in the undergrowth;

    Then took the other, as just as fair,
    And having perhaps the better claim
    Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
    Though as for that, the passing there
    Had worn them really about the same,

    And both that morning equally lay
    In leaves no step had trodden black.

    Oh, I marked the first for another day!
    Yet knowing how way leads on to way
    I doubted if I should ever come back.

    I shall be telling this with a sigh
    Somewhere ages and ages hence:
    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference.

    1. This is embarrassing. I've just realised that I'd lived my whole life not knowing "fork" had another meaning.

    2. english is a weird language... if i didn't speak it, i don't think i'd bother to learn it... unless i had to... which most likely i would...

    3. i started a blog: mudpuddle soup at wordpress...

    4. Haha.
      Is it this one ?

    5. yes, that's me, for better or worse... i just posted on lazarillo de tormes... i've tried to cover a wide range of not-too-well-known books; it's been fun so far... all comments welcomed...

    6. Nice. I'll follow you, though I'm too busy to read the feed.