"Love is not happiness. Love is suffering." - Gertrud
Carl Theodor Dreyer made "Gertrud" in 1964. It was the last of his fourteen feature films, and is, as far as I'm concerned, vastly under rated. Reviled by critics upon its release, it was not a hit at its Cannes screening: much of the audience walked out. Then, at the end of a showing at the 1964 New York Film Festival, Dreyer stood up in the director's box and was pelted with a chorus of catcalls.
The audience, accepting of the jump cuts of the New Wave, and experimental world cinema, were were baffled by "Gertrud"'s provokingly drawn out procession of scenes in which the main action is moving from one seat to another.
Husband and wife sat on a couch for minutes at a time, talking about the past and the end of their love—audiences hissed, critics accused it of being uncinematic. But, as filmmaker André Techine admiringly put it,
“an attentive eye on two figures talking even in a prolonged and static shot will never cease to astonish us.”
(Baard Owe later went on to appear in Lars Von Trier's Europa and The Kingdom.)
It is also based on a play of the same name by Hjalmar Söderberg - (published in 1906)- and although there are two other cinematic versions of this play. Phillip Lopate rightfully points out that:
"There is no other movie like Gertrud. It exists in its own bright, one-entry category,
idiosyncratic, serenely stubborn, and sublime."
"Gertrud" is a film unlike any other Dreyer, and yet it's the same. It is a story of love, revolving around an opera singer who discards a series of her lovers over a period of years. Dreyer paints this slow, almost static environment with long takes, and seemingly simple seated conversations. The rooms are fitted plainly, and the acting is tight, some might say heavy handed. Others, familiar with Dreyer would call it typical.
When asked what film should present Dreyer replied:
"Truth filtered through an artist's mind, truth liberated from unnecessary detail."
In "Gertrud" he has truly achieved this, creating a piece of art
that is vastly rewarding
. A piece of art that is steadily become recognised as one of Dreyer's masterpieces
As a result, it is one of his few films available on DVD2
, and I would strongly urge any Bergman
and/or Von Trier
fans to seek it out.
1Dreyer claims that its a "flop". In fact, he thinks this about most of his films.
2As part of the Criterion Collection's "Carl Theodor Dreyer Special Edition Box Set".
- My Metier (documentary)