Monday, January 31, 2011


Gertrud, 1964
Dir: Carl Theodor Dreyer

So I've now seen all of the features that Dreyer did after he made The Passion of Jean of Arc (1928), and this probably affected me the most besides that one. Vampyr (1932) is sort of in it's own little world, a moody, atmospheric slice of horror that you couldn't really really group with other Dreyer except maybe in a visual way. Day of Wrath (1943) and Ordet (1955) are both chiefly invested in Dreyer's humanistic interests, but are too hung up in their religious trappings (witch hunts in the former, conflict of faith and "miracles" in the latter) to really get all the way through to me. Dreyer let's all that stuff fall away and deals with the most complex of human emotions: love. While the film doesn't fall victim to easy pleasures of sentimentality, it can wear on you in its earnestness. There are certainly worse things that a film can be though.

The love life of Gertrud (Nina Pens Rode) is basically all we have to deal with in the film, but that can be asking a lot at points. She is married to a politician, Gustav Kanning (Bendt Rothe) but is no longer in love with him (and she even hints that she may never have been in love with him). She has instead fallen for the charms of famous young musician Erland Jansson (Baard Owe), who feigns love but is actually, in terms of relationships, just a typical young man. The wild card is Gabriel (Ebbe Rode), a past love of Gertrud's who's comes back to Denmark to receive an award for his poetry, but it is most definitely more about seeing Gertrud again (and getting her to see the pain of his lonely life).

There is no real big deviation in Dreyer's style from previous films, and in keeping with it, he basically does nothing to hide the fact that the film is based on a play. In the case of this film, that's not necessarily a bad thing unless you have no attention span. The monumentally epic takes, a trademark in his sound films, adds to austere atmosphere. You would think that this would be a detriment to a film about love, but you may have already guessed that no one is going to go away happy. And of course, the lighting, as always, is amazing.

The films overall thesis is moving, and many of its most poignant moments are discomforting in their elongation. Watching a wretchedly depressed man break down in rejection is practically unbearable, and that the rejection itself is far from malicious makes it that much more difficult. It's a bit over the top, but if anyone can get away with it, it's Dreyer. But in the end, at least for me, things need to be pushed at a more that glacial pace and I got tired of the endless chat that the lovers subjected themselves to. It's a nice character-driven film, and as a swan-song, it might even be Dreyer's most "Dreyer-like" film, if that even makes any sense, but not enough for the personal canon. Certainly not for casual viewers, that's for sure, but remarkable in its own way.

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