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Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Days of Wrath (1943) d. Carl Th. Dreyer

Lisbeth Movin plays Anne, the young wife of an old Danish minister who has a torrid, 17th century affair with her husbands son, and who is maybe a witch, too- in Days of Wrath by Carl Th. Dreyer.

Movie Review
Days of Wrath (1943)
d. Carl Th. Dreyer
Criterion Collection #125

  Boy, this movie has EVERYTHING if your definition of everything includes 17th century Danish fashion, witch burning and step mother/step son sex.  From a movie shot in 1943 in Denmark, under Nazi occupation, no less.  Truly a testament to what a skilled film maker can accomplish under strained circumstances, although I have to imagine the Danes were pretty mellow about being occupied by the Nazis.   In fact, even though I knew this was a Danish film the language sounded so close to German and/or Dutch that I was unable to distinguish a difference, even though I was listening to one.  I guess I was expecting something more along the lines of Swedish.
  It turns out I actually dig Northern European/German cinema- I'm loving Ingmar Bergman, I love this guy Dreyer and I look forward to watching films from this part of the world.   Days of Wrath is as emotionally intense as any movie I've seen, the fact that it came out of the 1940s makes it all the more remarkable.  Also remarkable is the fact that anyone can now watch this movie streaming on Hulu Plus.  I can't imagine there were more then a half dozen viewings of the old 16 MM pre DVD print in America in the last 50 years- if that many.
  The accompanying essay on the Criterion Collection page for Days of Wrath makes some interesting points regarding the novel style of camera work that Dreyer employed- I must confess that my eye was not sophisticated to catch it but after reading the article and taking another look I see what author Jonathan Rosenbaum is pointing out about his use of tracks to create a disorienting effect.
  Also Dreyer really nails the period part of this period piece- you get a sense of how witch burning was simply a fact of life in the day.  Personally, my image of witch burning always involved tying a woman to a stake in he middle of a pile of wood and then setting fire to the wood, but here, in what I assume is a more historically accurate depiction of actual witch burning methodology, they start the bon fire, then tie the witch to a ladder, then hoist up the ladder and tip it into the fire, so that with falls face first into the flames.  Also, they have a children's choir singing about burning the witch as they burn they witch, which- even if you are opposed to witch burning- is an undeniably classy touch.

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