Tuesday, November 9, 2010
This film has been variously described as a meditation on love, and a "two hour meditation on sofas and pianos". It reminds me quite a lot of Last Year at Marienbad, both in it's obsession with romantic love and it's fascination with architecture and interiors. While I cannot claim to have penetrated to the heart of the film, it was easy to watch for it's two hours worth, and it is visually and dramatically arresting and unusual. It is Dreyer's last movie, at age 75. It is indeed meditative even if it lacks the momentum and richness of plot of his three best known films (he made five in all).
Gertrud (Nina Pens Rode) is of middling age and has a beauty springing more from her narcissistic persona than physical or facial attributes. A former professional singer (we are treated to two exquisitely haunting songs in the course of the film) she is married to a lawyer (Gustav) about to be elevated to cabinet minister. "A woman's love and a man's work are mortal enemies", he ruminates at one point. Gertrud is going to leave Gustav for young and handsome rising concert pianist Erland who turns out to be a philanderer, boasting his conquest of her in a drinking party. Meanwhile, she is wooed by ex-lover Gabriel, a poet who has made it to the top. She breaks free of all three men to settle in Paris, immersing herself in a life of study (psychiatry, apparently) and we see her whitened of hair, finally breaking away even from Axel, her platonic lover. She has selected a spot for her own grave and an epitaph: Amor Omnia, "love is all".
The film has a kind of fluid formalism. Dreyer is restrained even at climactic moments, and in this film particularly, everything is on a tight leash, to the point of pantomime. The characters don't act naturally, in fact they don't even act. They strike statue like poses, as if for portraits. They are always in immaculate formal attire (except the tie-less Erland) signifying that they are all "formed personalities", at a stage of maturity and fruition of their natural propensities, in a sense bound by their natures. Gustav and Gabriel are at summits of professional achievement, mirroring the film maker, their physical appetites very intact. Each shot is carefully framed and the camera roams over the opulent mansion liberally sprinkled with works and artifacts of art, including some very striking erotica, since the film never moves far from the carnal. Dreyer is a blend of the carnal, the spiritual and the artistic.
The film is a somewhat enigmatic conclusion to Dreyer's five salvoes in the world of film.