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
The naming of the film as The Unsent Letter seems a little bit mystifying, in that it suggests that the whole film is about the letter, whereas that's something of an under-developed tangent.
The story concerns four Soviet geologists, prospecting for diamonds in remote Siberia. Gentle and committed Marxist-Leninist folk, they are all in love, Tanya and Andrey with each other, Sabinine with the wife he left behind (Vera), and Sergey is left with the thorns of the rose, in unrequited love with Tanya (oh no!). The idea of the expedition is that a source of domestic sparklers will lead to the betterment of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, perhaps even a new industrial revolution, releasing them from a reliance on foreign capitalists.
The popular wisdom of today (social Darwinism) has it that communism failed because humans are essentially selfish, human nature is competitive, families are nepotistic. Ideas about human nature being essentially negative were around before the establishment and subsequent collapse of any nations along principles looking something like Karl Marx's. The classic counterargument was made by Prince Kropotkin, (who himself led geological expeditions in Siberia) suggesting that human competitive behaviour was actually a marginal characteristic that capitalism had harnessed and brought front and centre, in aid of which he cited various anthropological cases, which pointed to the pre-eminence of the spirit of co-operation over the spirit of competition.
Why the history lesson? Well the folks in the movie were living under a different ideology, it was a hopeful ideology, where the spirit of co-operation was seen as an ideal. There were a class of people, represented in this film, who genuinely thrived under Marxist-Leninism (I do not deny the existence of nasties such as Joe Stalin and Beria and their havoc and undermining of Marxist-Leninist principles). It's critical that the way the characters think is understood, and is seen as realistic, for the film to sink in on any other than an aesthetic level (it is one of the most gorgeous movies ever made).
Kalatosov was a hardcore ideologue, an earlier film of his, Nail In The Boot, is hysterically Stalinist / Robespierre-ian. He's toned that down here, although he clearly sees the state as some sort of greater, potentially immortal entity in comparison to the individual. He really did feel that people could pull together in the same direction, for something bigger than themselves, it's simply not just propaganda for him to represent the many people who felt like that.
The reluctance to buy foreign diamonds is interesting because it's only superficially xenophobic, it's not like say, Americans not wanting to buy a foreign car. The Soviets believed that capitalist modes of production and wealth sharing were immoral, so buying South African diamonds was something inherently immoral for them, rather than about protectionism.
On a personal level I found Sergei Stepanovich's story very moving to me, I can't think where I've seen a character like this before. He's in love with someone who's already in a love story, he's jealous, but not ashamed about it. He's never felt that he loves anyone before and he's getting past the age where love stories typically happen, but he's too honourable to do anything dastardly about it to anyone but himself, wandering off into a metaphorical fire of desire. I've gone through the exact same experience, it's so rare to actually feel like a film-makers has have fashioned a character that I can identify with.
I mentioned that The Unsent Letter is one of the masterpieces of cinematography but the editing is brilliant too. I was staggered by one edit in particular, where the face of Vera is overlaid onto Sabinine's face, and they share one eye. I just felt, "What a perfect way to show that their souls had joined!". Kalatosov at heart seems to have been a bit of a romantic, and liked working in overpowering love stories into his work, for example in The Red Tent.
24 of 34 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?
| Report this