|Russian actress Tatyana Samoilova|
Letter Never Sent (1959)
d. Mikhail Kalatosov
Criterion Collection #601
Letter Never Sent is a fun watch mainly because of the combination of inventive cinematography, breathtaking taiga/siberian landscapes and a action-adventure survival story plot that is as fresh today as it was a half century ago. My take on the Russian collection within the Criterion Collection is that they are highly watchable films with little popularity. Only one of my Russian Criterion Collection films has scored more then 100 page views (Andrei Rublev: 139)
Татьяна Самойлова Tatiana Samoilova, Russian actress. Russian Audrey Hepburn anyone?
My sense is that the Cold War made marketing Russian films from the 1950s and 60s very difficult when they were released, and by the time the Cold War ended a generation of critics had come of age with little exposure to Soviet era film. That's just a hunch, I haven't done the research. I find the Russian films to be universally watchable, and none more then the Kalatosov 1-2 punch of The Cranes Are Flying and Letter Never Sent. Both star the winsome Tatyana Samoilova as the female lead. She was a real attraction in both films for me.
I didn't realize going in that she was the same actress from The Cranes Are Flying, and I stopped the film and went online to confirm where I'd seen her before. Her striking Russian/Scandanavian features and naturalistic acting style make her stand out as a main attraction. However in both films the performances are overwhelmed by the stylish and inventive shot making Sergei Uruvesky. He was the photographer/cinematographer in both films by Kalastosov and he is probably due more credit then Kalastosov himself for the enduring value of both films.
I know, simply from watching the extras from the Criterion Collection edition of Rashomon that Kurosawa was the first to shoot a tracking shot from behind a screen of forest trees, and the first to shoot up to the sky, but Uruvesky does both shots in the first five minutes, and goes on to experiment with hand held film and camera movement in a way that makes you get up off the couch and rewatch specific scenes to see how a particular shot was executed.
So to the scenery: Russian's vast Outback/Taiga/Siberia is very much of the moment. I'm thinking of the recent Werner Herzog documentary, as well as the popularity of survival based reality television shows. All those factors combine to make Letter Never Sent an easy recommendation with very high watchability and equally high contemporary relevance.