DAY OF WRATH: (1943) BLACK & WHITE, DANISH WITH ENGLISH SUBTITLES 97 MINUTES D: CARL THEODORE DREYER W: CARL THEODORE DREYER, POUL KNUDSEN, PAUL LA COUR, MOGENS SKOT-HANSEN & HANS WIERS-JENSSENS, FROM THE UNCREDITED PLAY BY HANS WIERS-JENSSENS, “ANNE PEDERSDOTTER” STARS: LISBETH MOVIN, PREBEN LERDORFF RYE
PLAYS FRIDAY, DECEMBER 26TH TO JANUARY 1ST, 2009 (YEAH BABY, TIME FOR A NEW PRESIDENT!) AT 7 & 9PM
“I don’t like working with prima donna’s. I work with faces and types. I don’t care if they’re famous or not, beautiful or ugly. I chose people because of their type and their eyes.”—C.T.D., as quoted by lead actress Lisbeth Movin in the Special Features of the Criterion Collection‘s DAY OF WRATH.
Having just watched it again, I experienced how much a true masterpiece simply gets richer and more complex on multiple viewings. All those things just waiting for you that you didn’t pick up, the 1st, 2nd or 12th time around. All of his films I’ve seen so far (MICHAEL, VAMPYR, THE PARSON‘S WIFE, and D.O.W.) make me KNOW I will want to watch them again after seeing the first 5 minutes of the movie. This film is all about the eyes, perception vs. reality, of truth and of power. To create this atmosphere, he wisely chose an actress with some of the most expressive eyes that have ever been filmed. (Lisbeth Movin, think Simone Signoret.) Different family members project onto the young housewife’s eyes what they see her as, her elderly husband (a minister) sees beauty and purity, his mother sees burning demonic intensity, her lover (and son-in-law!) sees mystery and is threatened by it. Using the analogy of the Church during the time of witch hunts to cloak the theme of the abuse of power due to the Nazi’s occupation of Denmark in 1943, he creates a paranoid world of torture and self-righteousness, romantic love and delusion, with some of the BEST cinematography created on this planet. What that man could do with a candle and some shadows! To me all of the frames from this picture could be turned into stills and hung in museums like Rembrandts. (And his entire body of work is like this! Doesn’t the uber talent of others get downright depressing at times?! Wait ’til you see THE FEATURE!) (I really envy those of you who get to see this film for the first time with this amazing print–C.T.D. is a visual artist extraordinaire, and it will be just stunning!)
The plot goes something like this: An old woman is accused of witchcraft. (And like being called a Jew in 1943, the accusation alone is usually a death sentence.) She runs to find safety at the house of the village’s minister. As the minister’s young wife had a mother who was accused of being a witch, but was miraculously set free. (Because the minister lusted after her daughter perhaps?) The old woman helped the minister’s wife’s mother escape the flames of the damned in some unspecified way. The young wife agrees to help her and hides her in the rectory. Where she is found, (the screams from the attic of the old woman are horrific, just as the screams of Anne Frank and her family must have been when they were discovered at last), taken and tortured. She asks to speak to the minister alone and threatens to tell his secret, the Satanic bargain that was struck to allow his wife’s mother to live. In the meantime the minister’s son from his first marriage comes home, and, as youth calls to youth, he and his father’s wife fall in love. As the young wife comes to fully realize what her mother was accused of being, she comes to wonder if she has the same powers. Does the secret of the minister’s vanity of thinking HE could override God’s law because he felt he deserved a young, beautiful girl for himself, (while he condemned all others to a horrible death), come out? Does the young wife have her mother’s powers running in her veins? What did the filmmakers do to dull the Nazi’s perception of this film, so they allowed it to be shown without noticing that it condemned their racism and totalitarianism? See how this master visualist solved all of these dilemmas as a response to the Nazi Occupation of his homeland.