Directed by: Carl Theodor Dreyer
Countries & Regions: Denmark
Studio: British Film Institute
Length: 112 mins
Region: Region 2
Released: 10 April 2006
Cat No: BFIVD667
Screen ratio 1:1.33
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Cast: Nina Pens Rode , Baard Owe , Axel Strobye , Bendt Rothe , Ebbe Rode , Anna Malberg , Karl Gustav Ahlefeldt , Vera Gebuhr , Carl Johan Hviid , William Knoblauch , Lars Knutzon , Edouard Mielche , Valso Holm
Politician’s wife Gertrud (Nina Pens Rode) decides to leave her husband (Bendt Rothe) just as he is about to take his place in... Read More
A beautiful film. Everything works and a reminder that although cinema began as a visual medium it is capable of handling an immense amount of dialogue. Hitchcock did not know what he was talking about when he coined the term "Photographs of people talking." Again simplicity rules.
Gertrud is a film played out by spectres. Indeed, it is impossible not to call Dreyer’s 1932 Vampyr to mind when watching as the characters have the same curious weightlessness. In Vampyr we are truly in the land of ghosts. In Gertrud, the characters’ insubstantiality is because they are husks of themselves, sapped by their pasts. They speak words of past loves, they live through their memories and their bodies are elsewhere. This is made clear in an early scene in which Gertrud and Kanning are talking. The most present object in the scene is the shadow of a chair. The chair is more present than the characters, and the shadow of the chair is more real still. We are in a strange area where action and passion are elsewhere and the past saps the present. In a stage-play (especially Scandinavian) this would be quite normal. To communicate this in a film requires a radical approach to a medium that is by its very nature always present and in the present tense.
There are scenes close to cinematic perfection in all of Dreyer’s films – in Gertrud it begins with Gabriel lighting the candles either side of the mirror that he had given Gertrud years earlier and which now hangs in her husband’s room. It ends with Gertrud extinguishing the candles. The ten minutes in between are sublime, and symbolise the whole film and its quiet demolition of relationships. In its own way it is a cruel film in which an implacable fate is at work, though its cruelty is entirely played out through words, delivered almost as if under hypnosis.
There is so little touch that each is meaningful, and the sets so spare that small details take on enormous symbolic importance – the chair that a character sits on, the fire they are sitting next to, whether a light is on, what the picture is in the background.
It is curious and somehow appropriate in a film in which the characters are so tethered that it is a purely cinematic touch that lingers in the mind. Briefly, the act of filming is itself a character, and when it washes and floods the protagonists and their scenes with light, it somehow symbolises the missed opportunities and untaken paths, the possibility of the defeat of emptiness. To say the characters are mocked by light would be too strong, but it is this light that means we leave the film uplifted by a story that could in other hands be drab.