Thursday, October 10, 2013

Day of Wrath

Based on the play Anne Pedersdotter by Hans Weir-Jenssen, Vredens Dag (Day of Wrath) is the story of a pastor’s wife who falls for her stepson during the seventeenth century as she causes scandal. Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer and screenplay by Dreyer, Poul Knudsen, and Mogens Skot-Hansen, the film is an exploration into social repression and morals where a woman finds herself dealing with her sins as well as the world that she’s in. Starring Thorkild Roose, Lisbeth Movin, Sigrid Neiiendam, Preben Lerdorff Rye, and Anna Sveirkier. Vredens Dag is a chilling yet mesmerizing film from Carl Theodor Dreyer.

Set in 1623 in a small Danish village, the film is an exploration into sin, regrets, and morals where villagers are afraid of those who may be connected with Satan and witchcraft. Yet, the film takes it time to explore a young woman named Anne (Lisbeth Movin) who marries the town’s pastor Absalon Pedersson (Thorkild Roose) much to the chagrin of his mother Meret (Sigrid Neiiendam) who despises Anne. With the arrival of the pastor’s son Martin (Preben Lerdorff Rye), Anne falls for him while dealing with a woman she knows named Herlof’s Marte (Anna Sveirkier) who has been accused of witchcraft as she asks the pastor to be spared. Even as she carries a secret about Anne’s mother that only she and the pastor knows which eventually would cause trouble where Anne’s feelings for Martin would also create more trouble.

The film’s screenplay has a unique structure where the first half is about Anne being part of a new family and meeting her stepson as well as the secret that Marte has been carrying as she is trying to hide from the authorities. Even as she has to confess, it is clear that she’s innocent but various religious officials aren’t so sure as it would lead to her unfortunate fate. Yet, it is the pastor that is the one person that can save her as he knows a secret that relates to his wife’s late mother as becomes consumed with guilt over this secret as well as feeling some doubt over his role. The second half is about not just Anne and Martin’s affair but the growing doubt that the pastor has as he becomes suspicious of the changes around his house as well as his own doubts about his marriage.

Carl Theodor Dreyer’s direction is quite simple yet also very compelling in the way he observes the life of a family as well as the world that is happening around them. Especially as he sets it at a time that has similarities to what is happening in early 1940s Denmark where it was under the occupation of Nazi Germany. Though some very stark yet haunting religious imagery, the film does have these long yet gazing shots where it takes it time to play out the drama. Even where Anne’s hair in the first half looks very blond as she seems to embody the idea of innocence until the second half where she starts to act towards her passions where her hair is darker and her face is much more demonic in some ways as if she’s scheming to do something. Especially in the climax where it would play to some tragedy as well as some revelations about who her mother is. Overall, Dreyer creates a very fascinating yet brooding film about witchcraft, social morals, and a world that is frightened by changes.

Cinematographer Karl Andersson does brilliant work with the film‘s black-and-white cinematography to play with its unique look for its first half while using shadows and shading to create an unsettling atmosphere for much of the film‘s second half. Editors Anne Marie Petersen and Edith Schlussel do excellent work with the editing with its use of fade-outs to play with its structure while using slow, methodical cuts to create tension in the drama. Art director Erik Aaes and set decorator Lis Fribert do fantastic work with the look of the home of the pastor as well as some of the exterior in the villages.

Costume designers Karl Sandt Jensen and Olga Thomsen do wonderful work with the costumes from the black-and-white dresses the women wear as well as the clothes the men wear to play out the religious element of the film and how it seems to suppress the characters in some respects. The sound work of Erik Rasmussen is terrific for playing up some of tense atmosphere of the film including a scene in the third act that involves a windy day where the pastor deals with a dying man while the rest of the family are at home. The film’s music by Pour Schierbeck is amazing for its somber yet haunting orchestral score to play out the drama and sense of terror that occurs over the idea of witchcraft.

The film’s cast is marvelous as it features some notable small performances from Albert Hoeberg as a bishop and Olaf Ussing as a dying man the pastor looks into late in the film. Anna Sveirkier is excellent as Herlof’s Marte as a woman who is accused of witchcraft as she tries to prove her innocence as she turns to the pastor for help. Sigrid Neiiendam is superb as the pastor’s mother Merete who loathes Anne as she thinks she’s up to no good while trying to get Martin to see the truth. Preben Lerdorff Rye is brilliant as Martin as a man who returns home as he is entranced by Anne while dealing with his father’s sense of doubt.

Thorkild Roose is amazing as Reverend Absalon Pedersson as a man who deals with the guilt over what he did to Marte as well as the secret he carries about Anne’s mother as he becomes consumed with doubt. Finally, there’s Lisbeth Movin in a phenomenal performance as Anne as this woman who falls for her stepson while dealing with the possibility that she might not be in love with her husband as she descends into darkness after learning about her mother where she does things to get her way.

Vredens Dag is a remarkable film from Carl Theodor Dreyer. With its captivating take on sin and a world ravaged by fear and accusations, it’s a film that showcases a similarity to what Dreyer was going through in Denmark in the 1940s and how it doesn’t feel much different to what was happening in the 17th Century. It’s also an entrancing film filled with gorgeous images as well as great work from its cast. In the end, Vredens Dag is a phenomenal 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) - Ordet - Gertrud

© thevoid99 2013


ruth said...

I haven't seen a lot of Danish films but of those I saw I've been impressed w/ them. The subject matter doesn't quite interest me but sounds like it's worth a watch for the direction and imagery.

thevoid99 said...

Carl Theodor Dreyer is considered to be the godfather of Danish cinema as he's still sort of new to me. The one I would start with is The Passion of Joan of Arc.

As far as Danish cinema. The 2 names that I think are very important to that country are Lars von Trier and Nicolas Winding Refn even though both have very different backgrounds.

Chris said...

I was impressed by "Day of Wrath", extremely powerful, and as you wrote, great peformances.
I also recommend The Word (1955) by the same director.

thevoid99 said...

@Chris-You mean Ordet. That's a film I hope to see real soon as I really like what I've seen from Dreyer so far.