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The film is based on the eponymous book by Valery Osipov. Four geologists are searching for diamonds in the wilderness of Siberia. After a long and tiresome journey they manage to find their luck and put the diamond mine on the map. The map must be delivered back to Moscow. But on the day of their departure a terrible forest fire wreaks havoc, and the geologists get trapped in the woods. Written by
In Mikhail Kalatozov's Letter Never Sent, four geologists are searching for diamonds in the wilderness of Siberia. Three men, one woman. Andrei and Tanya are in love. Sergei is in love with Tanya. Sergei is a strong man who had been on such expeditions but had returned with no luck. He is jealous of the nerdy Andrei's and the beautiful Tanya's relationship but never cares to hide that feeling. Sabinine (The Leader of the expedition) often spends his free time writing letters, which he will never send, to the woman he once loved. This is how the film begins: By presenting a set of characters, each having different perspectives but are present in the wild forests of Siberia for one reason. With the hope of serving their country, they are present there hunting for a diamond vein. It's no surprise that the diamond deposit is discovered in the film after days of hard work. Previous expeditions had failed but this one expedition proved that there indeed was a diamond deposit in Siberia. Soon, the four geologists, filled with zeal and satisfaction, find themselves engulfed by a huge forest fire and completely cut of from the civilized world. Will they survive?
Before the opening credits, the film pays tribute to the people of the Soviet Union who have given their lives for the benefit of the country, whether it be astronauts seeking answers for the mysteries of space or geologists going in to the wilderness hunting for diamonds. Throughout the entire film, we see the characters suffering in the piercing cold and bleak atmosphere of Siberia. Their goal at this point is to safely deliver the map, on which the whereabouts of the diamond deposit is marked, to Moscow. We see sacrifice. We witness loss. We witness alienation, hunger, despair. This is where I realized that similar to numerous Soviet films, Letter Never Sent contains shards of Propaganda. Adventure? Nope. I look at this one as a miserable survival film filled with some unnecessary moments of melodrama, patriotism and hyperactivity. The fact is that I don't mind patriotism and propaganda. But in this case it's overdone. I just didn't care for any of the characters. Not even the gorgeous Tatiana Somailova whose performance in the 1957 Soviet Classic The Cranes are Flying (Also directed by Mikhail Kalatozov) was spellbinding. It was because of this film that I was intrigued to check out Letter Never Sent.
Now the big question: What relation does the film and it's title have? As stated earlier, Sabinine wrote letters to a woman he loved from his past. He wrote them, feeling nostalgic, without the intention of sending them (Of course, the team is already in the middle of nowhere). This relation is explained further in the final moments of the film but it's significance is again directed more towards patriotism, in my opinion. Another disappointing aspect.
Unlike the ingenious masterpiece The Cranes are Flying, this film lacks true emotions. I went in with high hopes of seeing another Soviet masterpiece but eventually I was left disappointed. Albeit this film failed to emotionally engross me, Sergei Urusevsky's miraculous cinematography makes the film worth watching. Urusevsky and Kalatozov have collaborated in multiple films and their most well known work is of course The Cranes are Flying, where the film used astonishing camera- work. Though I believe Letter Never Sent takes it to a whole new level by composing unbelievable images. The camera work is well ahead of it's time. It looked like that the camera glided through the wild fire and the horrible blizzards very smoothly. The technical artistry of this film deserves a standing ovation and at times it completely overpowers the dissatisfying screenplay.
On the positive side, Letter Never Sent is one of the strongest proofs of how visually powerful cinema can be. If you ever tell me to compile a top 10 list of the most visually stunning films ever crafted, this one will gladly make it to the top 5. Mr. Urusevsky, you rock. (And I will highly recommend The Cranes are Flying in case you haven't seen it yet).
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