I wrote the following review of Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Gertrud for this week’s Cine-File Chicago list.
Carl Theodor Dreyer’s GERTRUD (Danish)
Available to rent through the Criterion Collection here
Carl Dreyer, one of the greatest of all film directors, excelled at making polemical movies about love, faith and female martyrdom, the potent mixture of which reaches its zenith in GERTRUD, his sublime final work. This ascetic film’s singular character, which gives the impression of being distinctly Dreyerian while simultaneously striking out in a bold new direction for the 75-year-old auteur, is deceptively theatrical: It’s an adaptation of a play of the same title from 1906 by Swedish writer Hjalmar Söderberg that features pageant-like proscenium framing (where characters frequently speak to one another while facing the camera but not each other) and is reminiscent of both Henrik Ibsen (in its depiction of a protoypical feminist heroine) as well as August Strindberg (presenting the eternal conflict between men and women). But there are few films as truly and wonderfully cinematic as GERTRUD, wherein Dreyer’s unique aesthetic combination of stillness, slowness and “whiteness” (to borrow an adjective from Francois Truffaut) is perfectly suited to capturing the title character’s near-religious view of romantic love as an uncompromising ideal. When the film begins, Gertrud Kanning (Nina Pens Rode) is a retired opera singer in her mid-30s unhappily married to a wealthy lawyer and politician (Bendt Rothe). Among the men aggressively pursuing her are her ex-lover, a middle-aged poet celebrated for his love poetry (Ebbe Rode), and a potential future lover, a callow young piano prodigy (Baard Owe); but none of these three men love her as much as she requires and so she chooses to live alone – without regrets. Unforgettable for its use of long takes, the function of which, in Dreyer’s own words, is “a penetration to my actors’ profound thoughts through their most subtle expressions,” and Rode’s luminous lead performance. (1964, 116 min) MGS