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Leaves From Satan's Book
Leaves From Satan's Book
Actors: Helge Nissen, Halvard Hoff, Jacob Texiere, Hallander Helleman, Ebon Strandin
Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
NR     2005     2hr 1min

Satan attempts to win God's favor but is doomed to cheerless participation in dark episodes of human history: the temptation of Jesus, the Spanish Inquisition, the French revolution, and the Russo-Finnish war of 1918.


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Movie Details

Actors: Helge Nissen, Halvard Hoff, Jacob Texiere, Hallander Helleman, Ebon Strandin
Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer
Creators: George Schnéevoigt, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Edgar Høyer, Marie Corelli
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
Studio: Image Entertainment
Format: DVD - Color,Full Screen
DVD Release Date: 04/05/2005
Release Year: 2005
Run Time: 2hr 1min
Screens: Color,Full Screen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 5
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English
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Movie Reviews

The Scandinavian "Intolerance" by Denmark's D W Griffith
Barbara (Burkowsky) Underwood | Manly, NSW Australia | 04/08/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)

"After D W Griffith made "Intolerance" in 1916, weaving together four main periods of history with a common theme, Denmark's leading director, Carl Theodor Dreyer, was inspired to make a similar dramatic film, and considering that "Leaves from Satan's Book" was only his second film, it was a splendid achievement. Unlike "Intolerance", Dreyer tells each historic episode from beginning to end, probably making it less confusing and easier watching for many viewers. Dreyer's common theme is betrayal, and the focus is on Satan who has been doomed to mislead mankind into evil doings, and who takes the form of a person in each historic period in order to accomplish his work. For instance, in the first story set in the last days of Christ, Satan appears in the guise of a Pharisee who tempts and misleads Judas into his infamous act of betrayal, and then continues to play pivotal roles in misleading mere mortals into acts of betrayal throughout history: the second setting being Spain during the Inquisition, then the French Revolution and finally a little-known (to most of us, anyway) conflict in Communist Russian-occupied Finland of 1918, which was no doubt close to the hearts of many Scandinavians at the time this film was made in the years 1918-1920.

The stories are interesting and different in each episode, and there is an interesting slant on Satan himself who actually doesn't want to do what he's doing, which is a nice change from the stereotype of the completely wicked villain with no depth or character. And like this angle, there is quite a bit of story to take in with more intertitles than usual, but worth a bit of effort because the stories flow well with good photography, and together they make a poignant theme of betrayal which is at the root of many dark periods of our history. The sets are beautifully done with care and a bit of artistic flair. For example, one scene of Jesus and his Disciples looks very much like famous classical paintings of the Last Supper, and throughout the film sets and characters were well chosen to fit our image of these historic people and places. It has an overall artistic feel to it, as well as serving a moral message based on mankind's history - much like Griffith's "Intolerance", and even has an exciting climax at the end like "Intolerance", only not on such a big scale. Nevertheless, this is surely a film Danes can be very proud of, and now the rest of the world can once again enjoy another one of Dreyer's fine works. The picture quality is overall very good, though at times some images are a bit too light, which often occurs with old films. Although it only has piano accompaniment, Philip Carli did a very good job doing the musical setting for this unusual and impressive film.
Leaves From Satan's Book
Steven Hellerstedt | 09/24/2005
(2 out of 5 stars)

"Motion pictures were in their infancy in the first decade of the 20th century. Movie theaters hadn't yet replaced nickelodeons, the average `movie' lasted less than 15 minutes, and the people who appeared on-screen were called `posers.' Not all that surprising since the machines - the motion picture camera and the movie projector - were the marvels to wonder at. For a brief while there people didn't act in movies, they `posed.'

That little factoid was buried deep in the back of my gee-whiz file until I watched Carl Theodor Dreyer's LEAVES FROM SATAN'S BOOK (1921), a movie made well after the term `movie actor' had become widely accepted and vaguely respectable. An episodic morality tale, LEAVES tells four 30-some minute long stories of Satan's evil work here on Earth. In the first he comes disguised as a religious leader who prompts Judas to betray Christ. In the next story he's a Spanish Grand Inquisitor leading a Catholic priest to commit deeds that will cause him to forfeit his soul. Next he is Citizen Erneste coaxing Citizen Joseph to cooperate in the execution of Saint Marie Antoinette. And so on. The fourth, current for the day (there was a Finnish Civil War in 1918 following the Russian Revolution), finds Satan gigged out like Rasputin looking for a Finnish quisling willing to betray the cause.

It struck me while watching the first episode that the actors in this one were more posed stage props that recreated humans. There's a scene from the Last Supper that is framed and dressed almost exactly like the famous da Vinci painting. The actors don't really move much, or change facial expressions. Rather they slowly move from one pose to another. Add to that the great number of title and inter-title cards, this is an incredibly talky movie for a silent, and not only does nothing much happens, but it takes almost forever for it not to.

This static and penetrating approach worked wonderfully in 1928 when Dreyer directed his masterpiece, `The Passion of Joan of Arc.' Here it simply makes thick porridge of an already wearisome subject. LEAVES FROM SATAN'S BOOK may possibly satisfy fans of silent movies, or those fans of Dreyer's `Passion of Joan of Arc' who want to watch one of his earlier films. If you're simply looking for a change-of-pace, entertaining movie, I wouldn't recommend this one at all.
Towering film!
Hiram Gomez Pardo | Valencia, Venezuela | 09/01/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"At the age of 31, Carl Dryer undertakes the realization of this film, a kind of European answer to David Griffith's Intolerance . He chooses four examples of fanaticism that as you know have always characterized the history of the mankind. But on the contrary of the Californian film maker, Dryer limits to tell these tales one by one, without intending, in any moment, to break the continuity through the parallel set up. The play divides, therefore, in four perfectly differentiated parts. What it ties them is Satan's character, that rebirths in four distinct characters with the aim of provoking the temptation on the Earth and incite to men to the most perverse actions.
Dreyer would reveal, years after that: "Stiller and above all Sjöström are who truly invented the poetic effects in the cinema." . In this notable episode of sorcery, throughout the Spanish Inquisition, it adverts the suffering issue and the expiation, that is the germinal seed that Dreyer will explore with all his maturity in "The Passion of Joan of Arc."
Early Dreyer Is Interesting But Heavy Handed.
Chip Kaufmann | Asheville, N.C. United States | 04/15/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)

"Carl Theodor Dreyer remains one of the world's most interesting filmmakers. He, Victor Sjostrom and Mauritz Stiller were the first to explore the Scandinavian psyche in the early days of silent film. He was the most introspective of the three as PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC, DAY OF WRATH, and GERTRUD clearly demonstrate. Among the things that characterize Dreyer's cinematic style are languid pacing, interesting camerawork, and intense but relatively restrained performances from his actors.

I was therefore surprised to find LEAVES FROM SATAN'S BOOK a great deal more melodramatic in execution than I would have thought. The premise is fascinating. God orders Satan to go about his evil ways and for every soul who yields to temptation 100 years are added to Satan's punishment but for every one who resists 1000 years are subtracted. Satan is therefore grieved when people give into him for he wishes to return to heaven but cannot.

Patterned after D.W. Griffith's INTOLERANCE, LEAVES is set in 4 different historical periods although Dreyer tells each story in sequence rather than going back and forth the way Griffith does. Unfortunately the acting from almost everyone except for Helge Nissen's Satan is way too broad and helps to undercut the film's serious message. Dreyer's first real film THE PARSON'S WIDOW which was made the year before is much more restrained and it has comic elements. The movie also seems to have not been speed corrected in certain scenes especially the Finnish one at the end which also undermines its overall effect.

The piano score by Philip Carli is a good one but a fuller score would have helped to distract one from the film's shortcomings. I think LEAVES FROM SATAN'S BOOK is a worthwhile film for its premise alone and deserves to be seen. I just wish that it had less of those traditional silent film defects such as over-the-top performances and speeded up sequences. If Dreyer was trying to copy Griffith's melodramatic style then it was a mistake for he hadn't Griffith's skill as a cinematic storyteller. If he wasn't then it was just a rare misfire from one of the great directors early in his career.

Interesting historical note: D.W. Griffith directed THE SORROWS OF SATAN in 1926 which is based on the same source material but is a very different film and not necessarily a better one."