Following the release of Carl Th. Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc, The Criterion Collection renews its commitment to this major director with a Special Edition box set of his sound films, Day of Wrath, Ordet, and Gertr... more »ud. Each is an intense exploration of the clash between individual desire and social expectations, with Dreyer's famously perfectionist attention to detail shining throughout. With brand new digital transfers supervised by Gertrud director of photography Henning Bendtsen, the Criterion Collection is proud to present these Dreyer masterpieces on DVD for the first time. The fourth disc in the set presents the masterful 1995 documentary on Dreyer by Danish filmmaker Torben Sk°dt Jensen, Carl Th. Dreyer-My MÚtier. Extensive interviews with collaborators and actors provide fresh insight into the life and work of one of cinema's great masters.« less
"I purchased this box set having only previously seen Dreyer's Day of Wrath (and Passion of Joan of Arc, which although not included is available separately on a great disc from Criterion as well) and I had little preconception of Ordet and Gertrud except that they were supposed masterpieces. Upon watching the 3 films and documentary included, I realize Dreyer's reputation as an intense stylist & perfectionist is well deserved. His films have a reputation for being unbearable to watch, apparently, but I didn't find them to be horrible at all. They do not have much in the way of entertainment value (Ordet contains the sole explicit joke in the 3 films), but aspire to loftier goals. The films are filled with slow, long tracking shots and feature progressively fewer close-ups. All of the films are exceptionally talky by today's standards, and all feature stunning manipulation of light to suggest emotional states of the characters. Of the three films, I felt Ordet was the best. The film caught me off guard with its ability to shock me with its beauty and raw emotion. This is probably the best filmic exploration of religion that I have ever seen. The characters are archetypes, to be sure, but the actors embody them with enough emotion that they transcend them. The film has perhaps the most powerful, subtle use of special effects that I have ever seen. I feel this is one of the absolute masterpieces of cinema and am eager to revisit it.Gertrud is a lesser film than Ordet, though not by much. Like Ordet, the films characters are archetypes, but somehow transcend them. I think these three films are amazingly adept at establishing an "at the speed of life" pacing that lulls us into thinking we're watching real people with real concerns as the themes leap into universal territory. Gertrud's character is one of the most interesting pre-feminist women I've seen in cinema and I think Dreyer's refusal to judge her in any way saves the film from being the bore that many find it.Day of Wrath is probably the simplest of the three films, but it is still a great work. Ironically, it's the film with the most outward action in it, and it has the most outwardly accessible subject matter, so I'm surprised it appealed to me the least. Nonetheless, it's gorgeous, impeccably acted, and has plenty of dramatic heft.As a viewer of modern film, I notice that these three films bear deep thematic resemblances to the films of cinema's other Great Dane, Lars von Trier. I would be so bold as to call the majority of von Trier's work a homage to Dreyer's oeuvre. Of course, one of his first projects was the realization of Dreyer's unfilmed script for Medea. A few years later, his Europa echoed the theme of Day of Wrath (suspicion of guilt becomes self-fulfilling prophecy). Obviously, Breaking the Waves and Ordet share last-minute religious redemption, but consider the leads of his The Idiots and Dreyer's Gertrud. Both are victims/martyrs of their adherence to an ideal, and that no one in their community can match it... and what is Dancer in the Dark if not a musical celebration of cinema that at the same time evokes Passion of Joan of Arc? I don't feel this reduces either director's films... rather I feel this set of old classics has enabled me to better examine some new ones.Also, the fourth disc is a somewhat middling documentary that, while cute, seems to focus more on recalling the mannerisms of the director than the intent of his work or the critical reactions to it. The liner notes are excellent. The set as a whole is indispensable."
Robert Bezimienny | Sydney, NSW Australia | 08/31/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"These films are true works of art. If you have any sympathy for the work of Andrei Tarkovsky, or that of Ingmar Bergman, then it is almost certain that you will appreciate Dreyer. Tarkovsky himself praised Dreyer, and his influence is directly discernable in Bergman's films.
Ordet is, perhaps, the most shocking of the three. The film dwells upon the spiritual lives of its characters, and it addresses this spiritual plane in several ways - strikingly through madness, through sectarian conflict, and through the mysteries of birth and death. The utter seriousness of its approach (save for a humorous reference to Kierkegaard (believe it or not)) allows the viewer to enter unreservedly into the film's world, which in turn allows for a miraculous climax, that is unbearably moving, itself a miracle of the cinema. So many of the universal elements in human existence are at work here that each viewer will undoubtedly find resonances within his or her own life.
Day of Wrath is a disturbing Freudian drama, cloaked in a world of tyrranical religion and witchcraft. Arthur Miller's 'The Crucible' was allegedly influenced by this film. The second wife of an aging cleric, rather precipitiously engages in an affair with her husband's son from his first marriage, all under the stony eye of her fearsome mother-in-law. Self-reproach and resentment abound, and the damning of witches stands as an allegory that is not limited simply to sexuality.
The acting in both these films is particularly fine. Dreyer pioneers some cinematographic techniques too, such as the tracking of the camera while reverse panning, and some memorable horizon shots (was Kurosawa in the audience?).
Gertrud, while recognisably Dreyer's work, is quite different. Here the nature of time and its role in film is central, and one can she how this film might have been a catalyst for some of Tarkovsky's thoughts. The acting is incredibly stylised, and the tableau as carefully arranged as still lifes. This film is so far removed from ordinary film conventions that it can be hard to relate to - in terms of the viewing experience perhaps there are some similarities to seeing an Antonioni film, but not too many: this film is unique.
Criterion have provided their usual superb transfers, and an interesting documentary. Really, the whole production of this package is faultless. A booklet provides a short extract from the book 'Dreyer in Double Reflection: Carl Dreyer's Writings on Film', edited by Donald Skoller, and I can also recommend this book in its entirety. Finally, Dreyer's Passion of Joan of Arc, also on Criterion, is as great as any of these three films."
Entering the great Danish artist's world
daboyeh | Salamanca, Spain | 08/16/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The author of "La passion de Jeanne D'Arc" has finally seen from heaven how his five best masterpieces are avaliable for every person in the world. And, of course, it had to be The Criterion Collection who made this possible.The three works of art ("Gertrud", "Ordet" and "Vredens dag") are presented in gorgeus Black and White preserving its original aspect ratio, with good extras and accompained by a magnificent additional disc presenting the documentary "Carl Th. Dreyer: Min Metier".These three Danish films are living beings of film history. They represent the highest level of "trascendental cinema" and create a new visual and conceptual world. The 'mise en scene', composition and character developing reach an unbelievable strength in most of the sequences in this Collection.I can't finish without suggesting you to buy this magnificent pack as well as the other two Dreyer's films released by Criterion on DVD: "La passion de Jeanne d'Arc" and "Vampyr". If you do this, the artistic level of your 'DVDtheque' will improve enormusly."
Some of the best from one of the best.
daboyeh | 02/05/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A stunning success from Criterion. Cinephiles who know Dreyer's works will doubtless buy this box-set sight unseen, so my review is more for the curious-minded who haven't seen these movies:*Day of Wrath* (Five Stars): Groundbreaking masterpiece about witchcraft in Reformation-era Denmark. The general feeling, I may as well tell you, is one of unrelenting misery. A well-into-middle-age Lutheran clergyman lives with his sour mother and his twenty-something beautiful wife. His adult son from his first marriage returns home to find that his "stepmother" is the same age as he is . . . guess what happens. Meanwhile, the old clergyman presides over the burning of a nice old lady who has been accused by the village elders of being a witch and a minion of Satan. (Yes, Joe McCarthy wasn't Miller's sole inspiration for *The Crucible* -- this movie predates that play.) So far, so good, right? Well, don't be too sure: as a matter of fact, the old biddy IS sort of a witch, as is the beautiful young wife. For that matter, the old pastor is anything but a meanie: he's a decent old stick . . . his principles are compromised, to be sure, but he's no villain. And neither is his sourpuss mother: even she has some vindication at the end. Check your assumptions at the door. Oppressive society? or a society that creates the very Evil that it persecutes? or a society merely protecting itself? Dreyer treats us like grown-ups, letting us ponder the ambivalences of this dark masterwork for ourselves.*Ordet* (Five Stars): Based on a play by someone called Kaj Munk. Makes a serious claim to be the Best Movie Ever Made. It's so starkly artful, so ultimately beautiful, that it really defeats a 1-paragraph critique. Suffice to say that it's about Faith -- various forms of it, the potential destructiveness of it, the conditional nature of it, the absolute need of it. And yet, despite the metaphysical themes, the cast of characters are as earthy as they come (most of the story, and the miraculous climax, takes place on a farm). Doubtless this was part of Munk's design, and Dreyer realizes it masterfully, particularly with the depiction of the old patriarch: so lovable, so stubborn, so real, that it's only divine justice that miracles should come to him and his family. The family, by the way, are also all of the above. You care TREMENDOUSLY about each one of these folks, Inger especially. Don't let beetle-browed film critics dissuade you from watching *Ordet* with their use of words like "difficult". Yeah, it's slow -- as befitting a spiritual story of simple people -- but not at all difficult. Dreyer demands patience -- and that doesn't require an abundance of genius. Just an open heart. And mind.*Gertrud* (Four Stars): Not as entirely brilliant as the other two movies in the set, but still pretty great. Dreyer's last film, it's also his most beautifully shot. The setting is very Dreyerian: turn of the last century, in the homes of rather seedy politicos, puffed-up poets, and conventional bohemians. Extraordinarily talky and static. This is usually effective, though sometimes the phrase "overly austere" will probably cross your mind. This is ascetic filmmaking: rigidly composed, written, and staged. The movie's biggest drawback is the not-terribly-new-or-shocking (in fact, Ibsen-vintage) feminism theme. Unhappily married woman wants out . . . I think Dreyer forgot to ask himself, "So what else is new?" with regards to his story. But the movie is still very much worthwhile. Nina Pens Rode's performance as Gertrud will linger in your mind long after you remove the DVD from its player.(A Note on the bonus documentary -- Two Stars): Mostly interviews with actors, DP's, cameramen, and such who are (or were) still alive and who worked with Dreyer. These old men and women make it abundantly clear that Carl Dreyer was eccentric, a perfectionist, a genius . . . which was already pretty clear to me after watching his movies, but whatever. A little more discussion of the man's life, as well as some critical chat on the films, would've been nice. All in all, however, this box-set stands as a sharp rebuke to all those yobs who think that movies can only be "movies", or "flicks", and never art. Dreyer made art -- appreciate it or get out of the way."
DAVID W MARTIN | ROYAL OAK, MI United States | 09/12/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I've been a longtime fan of the films of Dreyer, not only for the profound themes that he portrays in his films, but also for the unusual way he sets and composes his scenes. Each film I have viewed of his yields remarkably composed still scenes that would stand alone as works of art. The documentary DVD that accompanies this set is worth the price of the collection. Not only is it informative, but it is produced with an artistic visual style that perfectly complements its subject matter."