Wednesday, June 15, 2016
Based on the play by Kaj Munk, Ordet (The Word) is the story of a family who are being torn apart by different views on faith as a farmer struggles to maintain his ideals. Written for the screen and directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer, the film is an exploration on faith and some of its fallacies where a man deals with the growing changes and views of the world around him. Starring Hennik Malberg, Emil Hass Christensen, Cay Kristiansen, and Preben Lerdorff Rye. Ordet is a haunting yet evocative film from Carl Theodor Dreyer.
Set in a small Danish village in the mid-1920s, the film is about two days in the life of a farmer and his family dealing with changing times as well as struggle to keep their faith together as his sons start to diverge into different paths. Especially as it plays into different views where the farmer Morten Borgen (Henrik Malberg) struggles to maintain his ideals in an ever-changing world as his eldest Mikkel (Emil Hass Christensen) has become agnostic though is happily married to Inger (Birgitte Federspiel) who is pregnant with their third child. His youngest son Anders (Cay Kristiansen) is in love with a tailor’s daughter as the tailor Peter (Ejner Federspiel) has now led a Christian-based sect who refuses to offer his daughter to Anders because of his religion. Then there’s Morten’s middle son Johannes (Preben Lerdorff Rey) who has become insane after studying Soren Kierkegaard as he thinks he is Jesus Christ.
Carl Theodor Dreyer’s screenplay does have a traditional structure where it follows a day in the life of Borgen and his family as it opens with Johannes walking out of the house as it’s become routine for the family to fetch him. While Borgen ponders why Mikkel is agnostic, he doesn’t really try to challenge him out of his love for Inger and his granddaughters. Once the story progresses where Inger is about to give birth, Borgen still has to deal with Peter not just over different beliefs but also why he doesn’t want his daughter Anne (Gerda Nielsen) to marry Anders. It then becomes this kind of modern-day take on the Book of Job for the film’s second half as well as raising a lot of questions about faith as well as this growing divide over belief.
Dreyer’s direction is definitely mesmerizing in terms of not just the presentation but also aiming for a cinematic style that is a bit closer to theatre. With its usage of wide and medium shots to capture the depth of field inside a room at the Borgen family house or in its nearby sand dunes. Dreyer would shoot these scenes with very long takes that goes on for 7 minutes at the most as the film features only 114 shots. With the camera circling around on a tripod or a dolly-track along with few pans and such, Dreyer does maintain a sense of intimacy but also to observe these characters dealing with their own doubts in an ever-changing world. There aren’t many close-ups in the film as Dreyer is more concerned with mood of the scene as it can range from being tense to very dramatic as it relates to events in the third act. It’s where the theme of doubt comes in but also about some of the fallacies of faith and why different ideals on faith can do a lot of wrong. Even as Borgen tries to figure out what he’s done wrong to deserve all of what is happening to him. Overall, Dreyer creates a rapturous yet eerie film about a man questioning faith in a new world.
Cinematographers Henning Bendtsen, John Carlsen, and Erik Wittrup Willumsen do amazing work with the film‘s black-and-white photography from the usage of shadows and shades for much of the interiors set in the day and at night to some of the exteriors in the day as it has this air of beauty but also that sense of spirituality that emerges in the film‘s climax. Editor Edith Schlussel does excellent work with the editing where it does have bits of style in its fade-outs and a montage with transition wipes yet much of it is very straightforward. Production designer Erik Aaes does brilliant work with the look of the home that the Borgen family live in as well as the home of Peter the tailor.
Costume designer N. Sandt Jensen does nice work with the period costumes of the time as it plays into a look of the Borgen family as well a modern look of sorts of the town‘s new pastor. The sound work of Knud Kristensen is superb for the naturalistic approach to the sound from the way wind is heard inside a room to some of the scenes outside at the farm. The film’s music by Poul Schierbeck is wonderful as it is mostly low-key orchestral music to play into the drama while the songs by Sylvia Shierbeck are essentially variations of traditional music that is often played in churches.
The film’s incredible cast include notable small roles from Ove Rud as the new pastor, Henry Skjaer as the town doctor, Hanne Agesen as the Borgen’s main servant, Sylvia Eckhausen as Peter’s wife Kirstin, Susanne and Ann Elisabeth Rud as Mikkel and Inger’s daughters, and Gerda Nielsen as Peter’s daughter Anne that Anders wants to marry. Ejner Federspiel is superb as Peter Petersen as the town’s tailor/Christian pastor who objects Anders proposing to Anne as he would also try and convince Borgen to switch religions. Cay Kristiansen is terrific as Borgen’s youngest son Anders as a young man that is in love with Anne but couldn’t believe why he couldn’t marry her as he deals with the ways of the world. Birgitte Federspiel is excellent as Mikkel’s pregnant wife Inger who is considered the family caretaker as she’s adored by her father-in-law while understanding Mikkel’s growing lack of faith.
Perben Lerdorff Rye is brilliant as Johannes as a troubled man who thinks he’s Jesus Christ following a mental breakdown where he says mysterious things often to create doubt in front of his father. Emil Haas Christensen is amazing as Mikkel as the eldest son of Borgen who doesn’t follow anything thinking that things happen until he encounters something that couldn’t be explained as he struggles with this growing reality. Finally, there’s Henrik Malberg in a tremendous performance as Morten Borgen as a farmer who struggles to maintain his ideals as he copes with not just some of the prejudice he faces but also tries to hold on to his faith in a world that is changing as well as becoming more complicated.
Ordet is a phenomenal film from Carl Theodor Dreyer. Featuring a great cast as well as engaging and provocative themes of faith and doubt, it’s a film that manages to raise a lot of questions about religion but also some of its fallacies. In the end, Ordet is a remarkable film from Carl Theodor Dreyer.
Carl Theodor Dreyer Films: (The President) - (The Parson’s Widow) - Leaves from Satan's Book - (Love One Another) - (Once Upon a Time) - (Michael (1924 film)) - (Master of the House) - (Bride of Glomdal) - The Passion of Joan of Arc - Vampyr - (Two People) - Day of Wrath - Gertrud
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