Michail Kalatozov / SUHH, 1960 / 93 min.
A scientific mission to the Siberian wilderness provides the framework for this visually astonishing epic with a prominent role for the two elemental forces water and fire feature prominently. Digital restoration.
Of the three films which Mikhail Kalatozov shot with cameraman Sergey Urusevsky, Letter Never Sent is the least known title. The other two, The Cranes are Flying and I Am Cuba were to achieve greater fame. Letter Never Sent tells the story of four young geologists who set out on an expedition to the remote Siberian wilderness in search of diamonds. One of the lead roles is for Tatiana Samoilova, the actress who also played in The Cranes are Flying and was one of the fast-rising stars of Soviet cinema at the time.
Letter Never Sent appears to have all the hallmarks of an adventure film of the socialist-realist kind, but gradually the focus shifts. The New Soviet Man turns out to be no match for Siberia’s untamed wilderness when a raging forest fire forces the team to flee for their lives.
Veteran cameraman Urusevsky once more proved his mastery, with a virtuoso use of the handheld camera in scenes in which the team of geologists try to find a way out of the burning taiga. The young Andrei Tarkovsky failed to engage Urusevsky for Ivan’s Childhood, but was clearly inspired by the legendary cameraman for the design of his feature film debut.
The film was digitally restored by Mosfilm.
ENG or NLD
Russia, 2021: in the wake of Putin’s latest election victory, reforms seem further away than ever. How different things were in the late 1950s, when Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Union’s new leader following the death of Stalin, gave an impulse for change. This period, which came to be known as the ‘thaw’, gave rise to classics such as Ballad of a Soldier (1959, Grigorii Chukhrai) and The Cranes Are Flying (1957, Michail Kalatozov); a new generation of filmmakers (Tarkovsky, Shepitko) also stepped into the spotlight.