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Letter Never Sent(1959)
This absorbing tale of exploration and survival concerns four members of a geological expedition who are stranded in the bleak and unforgiving Siberian wilderness while on a mission to find diamonds.
For more about Letter Never Sent and the Letter Never Sent Blu-ray release, see Letter Never Sent Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on February 22, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Director: Mikhail Kalatozov
Writers: Grigori Koltunov, Valeri Osipov, Viktor Rozov
Starring: Tatyana Samojlova, Yevgeni Urbansky, Innokenti Smoktunovsky, Vasili Livanov, Galina Kozhakina
» See full cast & crew
Letter Never Sent Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, February 22, 2012
Mikhail Kalatozov's "Neotpravlennoye pismo" a.k.a "Letter Never Sent" (1960) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion. There are no supplemental features on the disc, but an illustrated booklet featuring an essay by film scholar Dina Iordanova is included with it. In Russian, with optional English subtitles for the main feature. Region-A "locked".
The film follows four geologists who have been sent deep into the Siberian tundra to find diamonds that would help the Soviet economy grow. They often talk about the future and occasionally contact Moscow with a rather large radio to update their superiors on the progress of their mission.
Tanya (Tatyana Samojlova, The Cranes are Flying) and Andrei (Vasili Livanov, Blind Musician) are in love and hoping that once they return to Moscow they could start a family. Sabinine (Innokenti Smoktunovsky, Nikita Mikhalkov's Oci ciornie) has already married the woman he loves, but she is thousands of miles away from him and he can't stop thinking about her. Sergei (Yevgeni Urbansky, Ballad of a Soldier) has recently realized that he has fallen in love with Tanya.
As the friends begin looking for the 'diamond pipe', Sergei pours out his soul in a letter meant for Tanya. Andrei sees it but incorrectly assumes that it was meant for someone else, someone Sergei has before he left Moscow. Tanya, who begins to understand how Sergei feels about her, slowly begins to ignore him.
The deeper the friends get into the tundra, the more disillusioned they become. But they carefully hide their feelings and keep on encouraging each other.
Eventually, Tanya discovers a small diamond. Filled with pride and joy, the friends immediately draw a map pinpointing the exact location of the 'diamond pipe' and notify Moscow. Then they finish their last bottle of cognac and go to sleep. On the following day, everyone begins packing and getting ready to go home.
But Mother Nature decides to keep the friends exactly where they are - they get caught up in a giant firestorm, hundreds and hundreds of miles long.
Mikhail Kalatozov's Letter Never Sent reminds a lot about Grigoriy Chukhray's The Forty-first. Both films tell incredible stories about survival and tragic love and boast visuals that are simply impossible to forget. Both films are also devoid of pure Soviet propaganda.
Letter Never Sent, however, is a much more powerful film. The geologists are simple people with simple dreams who are forced by Mother Nature to act like heroes. In the beginning they are naive enough to believe that their work could make a difference and later on that it is worth as much as their lives. But then their confidence begins to erode - they don't doubt each other but rather their own ability to continue fighting for their lives. In The Forty-first, the main characters are also faced with difficult dilemmas, but they are trained soldiers who do not necessarily have to rely on their instincts to survive.
Letter Never Sent is an indescribably beautiful film. Like The Forty-first, it was lensed by the great cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky, who also collaborated with Kalatozov on arguably his two best films, The Cranes Are Flying and I Am Cuba. The camerawork during the final third of the film, in particular, is astonishing. There is one specific sequence which lasts a couple of minutes that is absolutely incredible (filming it in the heart of Siberia with Soviet-style equipment is a remarkable accomplishment).
Letter Never Sent Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Mikhail Kalatozov's Letter Never Sent arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion.
Update: The following text appears inside the booklet provided with this Blu-ray disc:
"This new high-definition transfer was created on a Spirit Datacine from a new 35mm print. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using MTI's DRS and Pixel Farm's PFClean, while Image Systems' DVNR was used for small dirt, grain, and noise reduction.
Telecine supervisors: Russell Smith
Telecine colorist: Alex Berman/Prime Focus, New York."
The press materials I was sent do not indicate where the high-definition transfer came from, and now I am very curious to find out because in my opinion Letter Never Sent ranks amongst the best looking B&W films we have seen released under the Criterion label. Frankly, to see a Mosfilm produced film looking this impressive is quite remarkable.
Detail is fantastic. Close-ups convey excellent depth and clarity, while the panoramic vistas before and after the big firestorm look notably fluid (take a look at screencaptures #8 and 19 to get an idea how strong the high-definition transfer is). Contrast levels are stable. Color gradation is also pleasing - the lush blacks and gentle grays and whites are very well balanced. There is plenty of well distributed and well resolved film grain that is never plagued by persistent noise. The high-definition transfer is also free of debris, cuts, and large damage marks. There are no serious stability issues to report in this review either. (Note: This is a Region-A "locked" Blu-ray disc. Therefore, you must have a native Region-A or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access its content).
Letter Never Sent Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There is only one audio track on this Blu-ray disc: Russian LPCM 1.0. For the record, Criterion have provided optional English subtitles for the main feature.
The following text appears inside the booklet provided with this Blu-ray disc:
"The original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from a 35mm optical soundtrack positive. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube's integrated workstation."
The audio has been optimized very well. The dialog is consistently clean, stable, free of distracting background hiss, and easy to follow. Nikolai Kryukov's score also gets a decent exposure. The overall range of dynamics, however, is rather limited as the film's sound design is quite modest. For the record, there are no sync issues or audio dropouts to report in this review.
Letter Never Sent Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Letter Never Sent Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Mikhail Kalatozov's Letter Never Sent is an astonishing film, a little seen true masterpiece of Soviet Cinema waiting to be discovered. Recently restored, the film looks terrific on Blu-ray. In fact, it may well be one of the best looking B&W films we have seen released under the Criterion label. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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Letter Never Sent Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Criterion Blu-ray in March: Scorsese, Kalatozov, Hegedus & Penneb... - December 15, 2011
The Criterion Collection has posted their full roster of Blu-ray releases for February 2012. Titles include Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ, Mikhail Kalatozov's Letter Never Sent, Chris Hegedus & D.A. Pennebaker's The War Room, the David Lean Directs ...
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