The Film


An older woman, dressed in a simple black dress with a large star pinned to her chest, holds her hands up in the air as she speaks to herself. 

As seen from above, a woman stands onstage in a spotlight with her arms outstretched, casting a large shadow behind her. 

The profile of an older woman with a star pinned to her black dress, with Frederick Wiseman in the shadow looking downward.

“The perfect conjunction of director, cast and material… The cumulative effect is quietly, decisively magnificent.” 
—Lisa Nesselson, Variety

“Frederick Wiseman’s portrait of a doomed mother dictating final words to her son is shattering in its simplicity.”  
—Peter Rainer, New York Magazine

It is 1941. A Ukrainian ghetto has fallen to the Nazis and all of its Jewish residents are slated to be murdered. In the midst of the impending horror, the town’s physician, a woman named Anna Semionova, dictates one final letter to her son, who is safe outside enemy lines. With a dramatic reading of this letter, veteran documentarian Frederick Wiseman (High School, Central Park, Domestic Violence) presents his first dramatic feature: THE LAST LETTER. Adapted from chapter 17 of Russian writer Vasily Grossman’s novel, Life and Fate, this deeply moving and breathtakingly simple film features an unforgettable performance by legendary French actress Catherine Samie, the senior member of the Comédie-Française. THE LAST LETTER (La Dernière Lettre) is presented in French with English subtitles.

In THE LAST LETTER, shot entirely in black and white, Samie, dressed in a plain black dress with a star stitched on it, writes a last letter to her son. The setting is strikingly minimal, a bare room with no props. The effect is startling: Samie’s visual evocation brings to life the people of the town as Anna struggles to understand her past knowing she is about to be killed. Aware that she will never see her son again, Anna hopes he will think of her. She speaks of her intense fear and panic and her effort to control her feelings. She describes her love for her son and recalls memories of his childhood, thinks of her youth and her student life in Paris, and reacts to the horror, sadism and brutality of the German occupation—as well as the kindness and generosity of some neighbors and the cruelty and indifference of others.

With its vivid and chilling observations of a lost time, THE LAST LETTER reveals the dignity of one woman as she remembers her life and faces her death.

As Frederick Wiseman explains, “The spirit of this woman and our recognition of her courage, love, despair and sense of loss, help us to gain at least some understanding of the consequences of the violence of our time. The life of this woman, her effort to be totally realistic about her situation, her struggle to maintain her integrity, her compassion and humanity, are a part of our common experience.”

Learn more about Frederick Wiseman >>

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Read more about the novelist and the novel >>

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