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When You Read This Letter at UW Cinematheque
December 2, 2022 @ 7:00 pm - 8:50 pmFree
Nightclub dancer Lola (Claude Borelli) stands ready to remove her clothes in front of the rakish Max (Philippe Lemaire), who regards her with smug indifference.
Excerpt from Jason Fuhrman’s review:
Director Jean-Pierre Melville’s overlooked existential noir melodrama presents a counterpoint to his more popular crime films and period pieces—such as the underworld comedy of manners, Bob Le Flambeur (1956), the elegant character study of an impossibly cool contract killer, Le Samouraï (1967), and the gripping thriller about the French Resistance, Army Of Shadows (1969).
Taken at face value, the film may appear to lack the cool precision, calculated restraint, and mood of contemplative ennui that define Melville’s subsequent output. However, its atmospheric cinematography, stylistic complexity, and haunting ambiguities bring When You Read This Letter (1953) into alignment with the director’s most sophisticated creations.
Filmed largely on location in Cannes, France, with ravishing black-and-white photography by Henri Alekan, it holds up as a vivid panorama of a bygone time and place. The implausible, somewhat bizarre plot of the film—which involves con artists, blackmail, a sadomasochistic novitiate, sexual violence, tragic car accidents, an unsuccessful suicide attempt, grand larceny, and a tangled love triangle—feels surprisingly lurid for what was supposed to be a very “conventional” and “sensible” picture. With its many twists, turns, and abrupt tonal shifts, the narrative sometimes veers toward the surreal.
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