#74 - Day of Wrath (Carl Theodor Dreyer)

Sins of Our Mothers

I don’t think that I’ve ever been as fascinated with a director’s visual style as I am with Dreyer’s. To a large degree this is because many directors have a clear visual pattern that they follow from film to film, or they strive for absolute invisibility. You know a Quentin Tarantino film when you see it and you know an Alfred Hitchcock film when you see it.

But this is not the case with Dreyer because the films of his that I’ve seen so far are visually so striking, and most of all so strikingly different in their cinematic language that it’s almost hard to even conceive that they’ve been made by the same man. And if it was not for the shared thematic thread in his work and the general confidence that his films project it would have been quite impossible to say that these films where directed by the same person.

And this is also the case with “Day of Wrath” as it uses a cinematic language that is unlike the prior Dreyer films that I’ve written about. The shooting style is the most classical of these films, but it still retains that precise quality of his other works. Classical in the sense that it uses the entire spectrum of shot compositions, and does not exclude a certain framing, like how “La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc” tries to exclude wide angles and “Ordet” tries to exclude close-ups.  But the scenes unfold with characteristic meticulousness, and the staging, blocking and camera movements are very deliberate. However the photography is very moody and the lighting has high contrast and even impressionistic qualities.

I’d say that the cinematic language is somewhere halfway between “Vampyr” and “Ordet”, but without the overt abstractness and surrealism of “Vampyr” and without the stoic restraint and the monochrome palette of “Ordet”. Actually this analogy is quite apt as the film thematically fits well between these two as well.

“Day of Wrath” follows a pastor’s household in the midst of a witch hunt. And during this witch hunt the pastor’s son comes to visit and gets seduced by his young stepmother. The film, like “Ordet”, plays with the tricky concepts of religion and superstition that might turn out be real a supernatural influence on the events of the film, or just a mere series of unfortunate events or even coincidence. However, unlike “Ordet” and very much like “Vampyr”, here the characters fully believe that there are supernatural powers working against them or in their favor, which in turn plays a wonderful trick on the perceptions of the audience itself.

This is of course a fully intentional directorial manipulation that is further heightened by Dreyer’s wonderful actors and especially Lisbeth Movin in the role of the pastor’s wife, who undergoes a rather fascinating transformation in the course of the film. And then there’s also the repetition of the symbolism of biblical sins in the text and subtext of the film that gives “Day of Wrath” an almost clairvoyant touch, a touch that just further fuels the unease and tension that is created by the uncertainty of the film’s machinations.

But this film is not only fascinating from the craftsmanship point of view, it actually tells a fantastic story that is populated by rich characters as well. It is also an exploration of the very concept of superstition and most of all sin, and no one really goes unpunished – which, amongst other things, reveals another layer of Dreyer’s own religious views and beliefs. And although “Day of Wrath” does not have that cathartic punch-line at the end like “Ordet” and “La Passion” it is still a completely engrossing and tense film that constantly surprises and inspires much thought.

Original title: Vredens Dag


Thorkild Roose - Absalon
Lisbeth Movin - Anne (Absalon's young wife)
Preben Lerdorff Rye - Martin (Absalon's son)
Sigrid Neiiendam - Merte (Absalon's mother)
Anna Svierkier - Herlofs Marte

Original language: Danish

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