Saturday, October 27, 2012

Leaves from Satan's Book

Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer and written by Dreyer and Edgar Hoyer, Blade af Satans bog (Leaves from Satan’s Book) is a loose take on Marie Corelli’s The Sorrows of Satan where Satan is cast out from Heaven as he’s sent to Earth to tempt man through four different periods in time. The film explores the world of temptation and resistance as well as faith from the perspective of Satan in this very ambitious and broad tale of humanity. Starring Helge Nissen as Satan. Blade af Satans bog is a captivating film from Carl Theodor Dreyer.

The film is essentially the story of Satan trying to do evil deeds by manipulating those to see if they can give in to temptation. Through these four different periods of time where he tests various individuals to see if they give in or not, he wonders if it will get him back to Heaven. In the course of the film, Satan serves as the instigator of these deeds to see how it would impact certain historical events by manipulating a few people to see how it would effect these key moments in history. Among these different periods are the final days of Jesus Christ, the Spanish Inquisition, the French Revolution where Marie Antoinette (Tenna Kraft) is to be beheaded, and the Finnish Civil War between the Communist Reds and the non-socialist Whites.

The film’s screenplay has a unique structure in which the story opens with inter-title cards to establish what Satan has to do to reduce his sentence as he remains banished for eternity. Through the words of God, if someone gives in to Satan’s temptation. A hundred years is added to the sentence. If someone resists, a thousand years is taken away from the sentence. Throughout the course of each different time period, Satan has to endure the evil deeds he has to do as he watches from afar to see people be punished or killed as those who are responsible are the ones who give in to his temptation. By disguising himself in various forms including the Grand Inquisitor, a political leader of the Revolutions, and a Reds leader. He has to see how far he can go into pushing people’s buttons.

Carl Theodor Dreyer’s direction is very mesmerizing for the way he presents the film with its unique approach to framing as well as creating scenes that revel in its imagery. Notably in the four different time periods as he recreates the Last Supper with wide shots and close-ups along with the scenes of the Spanish Inquisition, the French Revolution, and the Finnish Civil War. By going into these very different periods of time and in different landscapes, Dreyer gives each story the chance to establish itself through inter-title cards as well as in the scenes themselves which reveal a lot that is going on through Satan’s actions. Even as the story progresses to the point Satan himself has to come in and tell the person he had just manipulated about the implications of that person’s actions. Overall, Dreyer creates a truly hypnotic yet engrossing film about faith and temptation.

Cinematographer George Schneevoigt does superb work with the film‘s photography by using various color filters to play out many of the film‘s scenes to help create a mood and style for these very different sequences. Art directors Axel Bruun and Jens G. Lind do amazing work with the set pieces such as the look of the Last Supper, the torture room of the Inquisition, the prisons at the French Revolution, and the home of the couple in the Finnish Civil War scene. The music of Philip Carli, from its 2004 reissue, is brilliant for its piano-driven score that plays to the very different moods of the film along with a take of Les Marseilles in the French Revolution sequence.

The film’s cast is great for the ensemble that is created as it features superb performances from Halvard Hoff as Jesus and Jacob Texiere as Judas in the first segment. In the Spanish Inquisition segment, there’s terrific performances from Hallander Helleman as a don, Ebon Strandin as the don’s daughter, and Johannes Meyer as the tempted monk who joins the Inquisition. In the third segment at the French Revolution, there’s wonderful performances from Viggo Wiehe as the Count de Chambord, Emma Wiehe as the countess, Jeanne Tramcourt as their daughter, Emil Helsengreen as the People’s Commissar, Elith Pio as the count’s servant who is tempted to join the Revolution, and Tenna Kraft as Marie Antoinette.

For the fourth and final segment in the Finnish Civil War, there’s excellent performances from Clara Pontoppidan and Carlo Wieth as a couple working for the Whites, Karina Bell and Christian Nielsen as Whites soldiers, and Carl Hillebrandt as a former friend of the couple who joins the Reds. The film’s best performance goes to Helge Nissen as Satan where he takes on various disguises in his look as a man trying to test people in his quest to find some form of redemption despite the evil deeds he does as it’s a very haunting performance from Nissen.

Blade af Satans bog is an incredible film from Carl Theodor Dreyer that explores the world of faith and temptation. It’s a film that is truly relevant in its themes where it reveals a lot into the decisions that people would make that would impact historical events. It’s also a film that revels explores Satan as a person or whatever he is to unveil the kind of role he has to play in the world. In the end, Blade af Satans bog is a mesmerizing film from Carl Theodor Dreyer.

Carl Theodor Dreyer Films: (The President) - (The Parson’s Widow) - (Love One Another) - (Once Upon a Time) - (Michael (1924 film)) - Master of the House - (Bride of Glomdal) - The Passion of Joan of Arc - Vampyr - Day of Wrath - (Two People) - Ordet - Gertrud

© thevoid99 2012

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