Friday, March 23, 2012

Day of Wrath. A

Day of Wrath, Carl Dreyer's 40s masterpiece (after the 20s, he made a movie a decade), has some of the most beautiful imagery and dialogue in any movie I've ever seen. The movie is incredibly sad and very affecting, setting passions and yearnings of the human heart against the tragic evil of death through witchcraft (Dreyer had previously handled the issue with Passion of Joan of Ark). There's a trio of main characters here, a young woman, Anne, her husband, a pastor named Absalon, and his son from a previous marriage, Martin. The drama during the first third of the film concerns Absalon approving the death of an elderly woman accused of witchcraft. Anne likes this woman and has been helping her hide, so when her husband grants her death, he further collapses their failing marriage. This prompts Anne, desperate for someone to truly love, to fall for Martin, who is about her age. Dreyer shoots much of these scenes of secret romance between the two in woods, fields, and by a river. They have an obvious poetic quality, harkening back to the days of classic romanticism. But this isn't what makes it a great movie. I loved it for a sneaky edge it has, the way it plays with the audience just enough to make them wonder about Anne and her capabilities. There's a scene just after the old woman has been put to death, and Absalon comments on how she, believed to be a witch, could do anything. Anne repeats him, a strange look on her face, first implying that she couldn't possibly believe him, but after a strange death later in the film, suggesting that maybe she took those words to heart. And that's one of the strange contradictions in the film, that it makes the whole idea of witchcraft an absurdity, yet also uses perhaps a bit of magic in the process. Regardless of what's actually going on, Dreyer's use of religious persecution facing up against human passion is one of the most compelling ever. Huge recommendation here.

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