Of Soviet directors working in the 1960s, you hear plenty about Andrei Tarkovsky (and for good reason), but even compared to him there are not many directors that have the kind of visual bravado that Mikhail Kalatozov deployed in his features (like The Cranes Are Flying of a few years earlier). Letter Never Sent is fairly laconic in terms of its dialogue — it follows three geologists and their guide Konstantin (Innokenty Smoktunovsky) as they search for diamonds in a far-flung stretch of Siberia — but you really get the sense of this environment, with elemental forces (fire, earth, snow) competing with one another for primacy over the image. The actual quest itself hardly seems as important as the relationship between these four humans and the impossibly deserted land they find themselves in, and there’s even a bit of critique of the Soviet system, as their work soon gets derailed and they have trouble getting in touch with headquarters. Still, it’s nail-biting thriller territory for the most part, and Kalatozov’s camera gets the most out of its struggle-against-nature narrative.
- This is one of the more bare bones releases Criterion has ever done, with no additional features aside from a booklet essay. Would that there were more resources detailing the making of this film though, because it must have made for a fascinating story.
FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Mikhail Kalatozov მიხეილ კალატოზიშვილი; Writers Grigory Koltunov Григорий Колтунов, Valery Osipov Валерий Осипов and Viktor Rozov Виктор Розов; Cinematographer Sergey Urusevksy Серге́й Урусевский; Starring Innokenty Smoktunovsky Иннокентий Смоктуновский, Tatiana Samoilova Татья́на Само́йлова, Vasily Livanov Василий Ливанов, Yevgeni Urbansky Евгений Урбанский; Length 96 minutes.
Seen at home (Blu-ray), Wellington, Thursday 29 December 2022.