Carl Theodor Dreyer: Cinema’s Great Dane
Before Ingmar Bergman, there was Carl Theodor Dreyer—another Scandinavian master (from Denmark, not Sweden) raised in a strict Lutheran family and obsessed with suffering, spirituality, and the supernatural. Dreyer, who lived from 1889 to 1968, was not as prolific as Bergman, but among his 14 feature films (most of them made during the silent era) are four of the most celebrated and enduring works of world cinema. This quartet shows in March and April.
The Passion of Joan of Arc, the earliest of the four, is also the only silent film in the bunch. Despite its age, this 1928 masterpiece—in which French actress Renée Falconetti gives what critic Pauline Kael has called “maybe the finest performance ever recorded on film”—still finishes high in polls of the best movies ever made.
Dreyer’s next two features are indelible accounts of fear and psychological torment. Vampyr is a nightmarish tale of a village spellbound by a bloodsucker. Made early in the sound era, this 1932 chiller retains the visual power of great silent cinema. Day of Wrath (1943), nominally a tale of a 17th-century bride accused of witchcraft, is actually a study of love and marriage, blackmail and betrayal, guilt and scapegoating.
The paranormal returns in Dreyer’s startling and sublime 1955 drama Ordet (The Word), which focuses on a rural family riven by religious differences. These Danes find their faith (or lack of it) tested by a domestic tragedy. That this somber film ends with a stirring affirmation is a testament to both the director’s metaphysical bent and his supreme command of the movie medium.
Curator of Film
All shown in Morley Lecture Hall. Each film $11, CMA members $8.
The most spectral—and perhaps creepiest—of all vampire films tells of a stranger who arrives at a European village where the locals behave in a peculiar, sinister fashion. Haunting imagery and a claustrophobic mood of dread take precedence over narrative clarity.
This “psychological masterpiece suggesting a fusion of Hawthorne and Kafka” (Pauline Kael) is set in 1623 Denmark. The beautiful young wife of a grim old pastor finds that her love for her stepson causes her to be branded a witch.
This silent classic is a visually stunning re-creation of the heresy trial of the 15th-century French freedom fighter, based on actual court transcripts. It’s celebrated for its stark, stunning close-ups, and for Renée Falconetti’s sublime portrayal of Joan (which critic Pauline Kael called “maybe the finest performance ever recorded on film”).
A rural farm family whose members harbor a variety of religious beliefs experiences tragedy, followed by a crippling crisis of faith, in this mesmerizing, transcendent masterpiece.