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The Criterion Collection presents
Carl Th. Dreyer Collection: Day of Wrath, Ordet, Gertrud (1943-1964)

"Have you never on lonely nights heard my heart call out to you?"
- Gertrud Kanning (Nina Pens Rode)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: August 20, 2001

Stars: Thorkild Roose, Lisbeth Movin, Preben Lerdorff Rye, Henrik Malberg, Emil Hass Christensen, Birgitte Federspiel, Nina Pens Rode, Bendt Rothe, Ebbe Rode
Other Stars: Sigrid Neiiendam, Anna Svierkier, Cay Kristiansen, Ejnar Federspiel, Gerda Nielsen, Baard Owe, Axel Strobye
Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer

Manufacturer: American Zoetrope DVD Labs, S.F.
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (torture and brief nudity in Day of Wrath)
Run Time: 05h:38m:56s
Release Date: August 21, 2001
UPC: 037429158425
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A-B+A- A-

DVD Review

Carl Theodor Dryer was Denmark's greatest contribution to world cinema. Over a career that spanned nearly fifty years, he surprisingly only made 13 feature films, the last three of which are collected here. The Criterion Collection has previously released Dreyer's 1928 Passion of Joan of Arc, surely one of the high points of cinema in nearly anyone's book. These three later pictures show that Dreyer never lost his sure hand for style. In the use of light and shadow, he was without parallel and even when the films falter in story, they are always visually interesting.

Vregens Dag (Day of Wrath) (1943)
Running time: 01h:37m:11s

"If I burn at the stake, so shall Anne!"
- Herlof's Marte (Anna Svierkier)

This model for The Crucible is an allegory for the terror of the Nazi occupation of Denmark, set in the early 17th century, when witch hunts were common. Benign herb-woman Herlof's Marte (Anna Sverkier) is pursued by witch hunters, and seeks refuge at the rectory where young Anne (Lisbeth Movin) is the wife of the elderly priest Absalon (Thorkild Roose). Marte threatens to reveal that Absalon gave Anne's mother, who was also a witch, a free pass because he lusted after Anne. At the same time, Absalon's son Martin (Preben Lerdorff Rye) returns home from school. Martin is older than his father's wife, and soon they fall into incestuous love, leading to a climax of madness and the power of Satan.

Shadow and light are used to incredible effect here, with pools of darkness and light giving emphasis in expressionistic manner. Lisbeth Movin is utterly believable as Anne, and her descent into sin and her tainted bloodline are carried across with great effect. Her eyes when she first spots Martin are highly expressive and not a word is necessary to know what's going through her mind. No one escapes with his or her innocence intact here, making this feature quite bleak, in the grand Scandinavian tradition.

The musical score is notable, being entirely adapted from the Gregorian chant Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) that gives the film its title. The permutations are intriguing throughout, with romantic themes underlined by the ominous line of the chant. The score helps make the film even more memorable than it would be otherwise.

Ordet (The Word) (1955)
Running time: 02h:05m:28s

"Miracles don't happen any more."
- Morten Borgen (Henrik Malberg)

Religion is the focus of Ordet. Indeed, it reads like a microcosm of James' Varieties of Religious Experience. The central conflict is between the earth-centered and liberal Lutheranism of the family of Morten Borgen (Henrik Malberg) and the conservative fundamentalism of tailor Peter Skraedder (Ejnar Federspiel). In finest Romeo and Juliet fashion, Anders (Cay Kristiansen), the youngest son of Morten wants to marry the tailor's daughter Anne (Gerda Nielsen). While eldest Borgen son Mikkel (Emil Hass Christensen) is an agnostic, middle brother Johannes (Preben Lerdorff Rye) believes he is Jesus Christ, having gone mad reading Kierkegaard. When Mikkel's wife, Inger, experiences complications from childbirth, these factions come into conflict, resolving into a plainly miraculous sequence that defies logic but fits the story well.

The casting here is impeccable. All of the characters are believable in their own way. Dreyer plainly identifies most with mad Johannes, who seems to be the closest to God in his ravings. Again, light and shadow is used to exquisite effect. The childbirth sequence is alternately tense and horrifying, though the horror is all through implication and dialogue rather than splattering the screen with gore. Raising more questions than it answers, Ordet is a fine and memorable examination of belief.

Gertrud (1964)
Running time: 01h:56m:17s

"Remember what you said when you gave me the ring. 'If the day ever came when one of us wanted to be free, then the other must step aside.'"
- Gertrud Kanning (Nina Pens Rode)

Dreyer's final film, like the preceding two, is based on a stage play. Gertrud (Nina Pens Rode) is married to lawyer-politican Gustav Kanning (Bendt Rothe). Feeling that there is no love in her relationship, she abandons her husband for composer Erland Jansson (Baard Owe), with whom she feels she can have an ideal love. An old flame, Gabriel Lidman (Ebbe Rode) comes back into her life as well, looking to rekindle the fire that was once there. But Gertrud's ideals are so high that no human love can possibly meet them, leading her to inevitable unhappiness and loneliness.

If it weren't for the fact that Dreyer apparently had no sense of humor whatsoever, I would interpret this movie as a satire of the more pretentious films of Ingmar Bergman. The performances are oddly stilted to the point of being ridiculous, with nearly all of the lines delivered while the actors are staring off into space. It's not clear to me (nor to the actors who are interviewed) what Dreyer intended to accomplish with this, but it does make the few moments of eye contact between the characters quite striking. Perhaps he meant to convey the idea that people usually talk past each other, lost in their own interpretations. Only at a few instants are they really communicating in any meaningful way, instead of just declaiming at each other.

The pacing is incredibly slow, and the picture features numerous lengthy takes of completely static shots, a strange regression for the man who did the dizzying tracking shots so prominent in Day of Wrath. The staging is highly theatrical, emphasizing the dramatic origins of the material.

Even though it is not comfortable to sit through, Dreyer still provides plenty of visual interest. Whenever Gertrud is with the men that she finds do not measure up to her ideal, a diagonal shadow appears between them. When Lidman sees Gertrud, he spots her in a mirror, candles on each side, as she emerges from darkness in a tour de force shot, as beautiful as anything ever put on the screen. Though filmed in black and white, the use of chiaroscuro makes the picture seem colorful nonetheless.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: Criterion, in general, gives these films a beautiful transfer, utilizing the full richness of Dreyer's shadows and his painting with light. Day of Wrath, having been shot in wartime inside an occupied country, is not surprisingly in the worst shape. It is, however, an enormous improvement over the 16mm prints on which this film is usually seen. There is still some flicker and minor speckling, and plenty of grain, but the shadows are excellent and the black levels very good. Ordet looks super, with a crisp and detailed presentation. There is a little minor speckling, but by and large the picture looks gorgeous.

Gertrud has framing that may prove controversial. Our inquiries with Criterion indicate that the framing was done personally by cinematographer Henning Berndtsen, so it is apparently definitive. The keepcase states that the movie is presented in the original 1.66:1 ratio, in anamorphic format. However, the film is actually presented in what appears to be a 1.78:1 ratio (I saw no side bars whatsoever on my widescreen set), and significant chunks of the top and bottom are cut off. Frequently the tops of heads are cropped from the picture. Indeed, if one compares the presentation here to the clips seen in the documentary, we're clearly losing large pieces of picture by means of this cropping. That said, the quality of the transfer is very good, with plenty of detail and the usual excellent shadows and blacks. Bit rates on all three discs are uniformly high, with the RSDL format being put to good use.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The original Danish mono audio is presented for all three movies. Again, Day of Wrath suffers from the circumstances under which it was made. The audio is noisy and crackly, with irritating amounts of hiss to boot. The music sounds rather tinny and unpleasant at times, though that may be intentional. Ordet and Gertrud both sound first-rate, without hiss or noise of any kind. Obviously, these aren't spectacular show pieces, but they're a proper and clean representation of the soundtracks.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 80 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Carl Th. Dreyer--My Metier
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
8 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
4 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:03m:45s

Extra Extras:
  1. Stills Galleries
  2. Archival footage from production of Gertrud
  3. Dreyer's 1943 essay My Metier
Extras Review:
Note : Layer Switches occur at: 01h:03m:45s (Day of Wrath); 01h:10m:56s (Ordet) and 01h:15m:09s (Gertrud).

This box set is chockablock with extras, though sadly there is no commentary on the films. However, there is not only an excellent 1995 documentary on its own disc, Carl Th. Dreyer—My Metier, but there are outtake interviews with many of the cast and crew that make up eight featurettes distributed across the discs. Filmed in 1966 and 1995, these interviews give a good deal of background and interesting information about Dreyer's working methods. A trailer for the documentary is also included.

Each of the films has a still gallery. That for Day of Wrath is not so extensive as for the other two, but it does include a number of detailed set design drawings that are fascinating in their own right. A lengthy essay on Dreyer's life and career by film scholar Edvin Karr appears on the fourth disc, as well as a Dreyer filmography. In all, this is a terrific gathering of extra content in the finest Criterion manner; if there were commentaries this would get my very highest ranking.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

Three classic foreign films, with loads of background information and good transfers, make this box set the definitive treatment of these last films of Carl Th. Dreyer. The framing of Gertrud is the only significant drawback.


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