The Last Letter - FILMMAKER IN PERSON
December 2, 2011
Directed by Frederick Wiseman, Appearing in Person
US/France 2002, 16mm, b/w, 62 min
In his first cinematic departure from both the documentary and the English language, Wiseman paints a black-and-white Expressionistic vision of a solitary character played by actress Catherine Samie. Based on a chapter of Vasily Grossman's novel Life and Fate, the lyrical monologue is a letter from a doomed Jewish doctor to her son wherein she describes her Ukrainian village's fall to the Nazis in 1941. Her deeply, precisely articulated gestures and voice play a mesmerizing dance with Wiseman's spare, masterful use of the language of cinema. Like his documentary work, the drama feels palpably intimate yet permanently engraved upon the stage of the world. Illustrating one woman's capacity for profound tenderness and dignity in the face of extinction, The Last Letter is an eloquent elegy that is ultimately a call to life.