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BFI & Carl Dreyer this Spring (Part 2)

BFI Video have announced the details for their next two films from Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer. Following the release in March of Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Ordet (1955) and Master of the House (1925), BFI Video will now release Gertrud (1964) alongside Day of Wrath (1943) on 10th April 2006. Priced at £19.99 each, details follow…

Arguably Dreyer's masterpiece, Gertrud, his final film, centres on a woman, loved by four different men, who rejects the compromise of her marriage, suffers disappointment in her younger lover and retreats into a serene isolation.

Adapted from a 1906 play by Hjalmar Söderberg, Gertrud is the story of a woman's search for a romantic ideal of total and perfect love. A once famous singer now in her early forties and retired in Stockholm, Gertrud makes the decision to leave Gustav, her lawyer husband for her lover Erland, a young composer. Discovering the next day that Erland has betrayed her, and that he cannot make a total commitment to her, Gertrud rejects both husband and lover, choosing a life of solitude and study over the compromise of love that is merely half-measure.

With masterly restraint and understatement, concentrating on small nuances, Dreyer suggests that Gertrud's peace has been bought at the cost of much emotional pain. He used extremely long takes throughout the film and a constantly gliding camera. Every detail of every shot was so meticulously planned that he needed only three days to edit the film. The actors speak and move in a manner so controlled and stylised that they almost seem to be living statues.

Gertrud is a film I made with my heart’, said Dreyer and its rigorously pared-down structure and stylised slowness, intricate camera movements and lighting effects show superbly how the art of his films were his truly great passion.

The DVD also includes a rare Dreyer short film, The Village Church.

  • Carl Th. Dreyer und Gertrud (Christiane Habich / Reinhard Wulf, 1994, 29 mins) - a documentary on the making of Gertrud, including footage from the premiere in Paris and interviews with Dreyer, members of the cast and crew and others
  • The Village Church (Dreyer, 1947, 14 mins)
  • Fully illustrated booklet with essays by Dreyer scholar Casper Tybjerg (University of Copenhagen) and Ilona Halberstadt (editor of PIX)

Day of Wrath is generally regarded to be one of Dreyer’s greatest works. Its mood is sombre and intense; the narrative pace is steady and deliberate, presenting horrific events with chilling restraint; and it deals with all his prime concerns: religious faith, the supernatural, social intolerance, innocence and guilt, and the clash between society and the individual - especially the individual woman.

This is a dark and powerful tale of love and betrayal, and of a community gripped by an obsessive fear of witchcraft. It is adapted from a 1909 stage play, Anne Pedersdotter, by Norwegian writer Hans Wiers-Jenssen. Dreyer said that he saw in it ‘possibilities for great monumental visual effects - four or five figures as sharply defined as medieval wood sculptures’. He used light and darkness to express moral and emotional concerns, with severe, black-garbed figures set against stark white walls, and opposing lines of force creating tensions within the frame.

In early seventeenth-century rural Denmark an old woman is hunted down and burned as a witch, despite the efforts of the parson’s young wife, Anne, to save her. Anne (whose own mother had been suspected of being a witch), is possessed by a secret passion for her stepson, a young man of her own age, and when her elderly husband dies she finds herself accused of using witchcraft to cause his death.

Seen by some as an allegory of the Nazi occupation of Denmark and by others as an indictment of male domination and suppression of strong women, Day of Wrath has an extraordinary emotional intensity achieved by superb performances, and is a stunning example of the humanity, artistic power and technical mastery of Dreyer's art.

The DVD also includes two rare Dreyer short films, The Fight Against Cancer and A Castle Within a Castle, previously unreleased in the UK.

  • Feature commentary by Danish Dreyer expert Casper Tybjerg (University of Copenhagen)
  • The Fight Against Cancer (Dreyer, 1947, 15 mins)
  • A Castle Within a Castle (Dreyer, 1955, 8 mins)
  • Fully illustrated booklet including an essay on Day of Wrath by film historian Philip Kemp and ‘Film art as passion’, an essay on the director’s work by Casper Tybjerg

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