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Ordet (1955)

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That was from his excellent (but dense) book, The Films of Carl-Theodore Dreyer (1981).  I don't think it's in print anymore, but you can still find it used.

Ouch.

Doug, if you ever see a copy anywhere in the vast network of used bookstores for >$40, I'd be appreciative (and pay all costs, of course) if you'd pick it up for me.

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Amazon lists it here for $45, but I think I bought mine at an actual B&M for less.

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I like how the specifics of the denominational gap between the two families are never mentioned... it's irrelevant simply because there is a gap in the first place. 

I bought a copy of the playwright's plays translated into English and read the play recently. Editor's notes suggest that Munk, a Danish Lutheran pastor, had written the last scene in part over his frustration at feeling so powerless at funerals. The notes also suggest Munk's play had in mind a certain primitive Methodist-type sect (the tailor's group, of course) and the Grundvig old-school sect, both sects within the Lutheran state church. Dreyer makes reference to none of the specifics of the sects or their disagreements, though, and as an intended or unintended happy consequence I think it helps the modern Christian viewer to easier look at the disagreements through the lens of our own experience.

I also appreciated the theater-style conventions more this time around, specifically the recurrence of medium shots where two characters would converse with their gazes trained not on each other, but at separate points in the fourth wall. Most memorably, when Inger and Borgen are discussing Anders's intentions for the first time.

Of course, the ambient animal sounds during interior scenes also contribute to the effect. Sure, it's a farm, so you'd possibly hear those sounds inside no matter how you shot or presented the scene, but it seemed so much like what you'd find in a play trying to convince you there are animals offstage.

A member of our group opined that the animal sounds seemed to come at certain appointed times of crisis among the characters. Has anyone here noticed any such thing?

Does Bordwell have anything to say about Dreyer's use of wipes in the scenes where they're searching outdoors for Johannes, Doug? Despite the sad motivation, there's something of a spatial respite when the characters are in the wide dunes. I guess the wipes, which are constantly following or boxing in the characters, seem to confine them even in the outdoors. I will have to admit that despite Kurosawa's use (contemporary to Dreyer's), the recurrence of wipes in Star Wars and the Batman TV show and other serial-type shows have trained me to regard them as gimmickry.

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Doug, I'm just curious, does Bordwell talk at all about that moment when Peter the Tailor and his family arrive for the funeral? You know, that long shot of them walking toward the camera through the barn? The composition of the shot has always reminded me of the classic image of John Wayne from the end of The Searchers. I also love the scene because it includes a perfect music cue.

I'm asking because that scene, compared to the rest of Ordet, has always felt Hollywood-like to me. It's one of the few moments in the film that feels familiar and easy, sentimental even. I assume that Dreyer constructed it that way both to give us a brief reprieve and to make the formal rigor of the funeral scene even more strange by comparison.

Anyway, if you have the book nearby, I'd be interested to read what Bordwell has to say. Thanks for posting that.,

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Does Bordwell have anything to say about Dreyer's use of wipes in the scenes where they're searching outdoors for Johannes, Doug?

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Another thing I had noticed this time around was the uniqueness of the opening shot. After the sort of formal hymn-book opening to Day of Wrath (which I also like), it's a neat change of pace to see the title superimposed over that exterior shot. And naming Munk in the film's credit like that is a nice touch.

Doug, have you heard anything about the earlier film version? Is it available anywhere? Does Bordwell mention it at all? Schrader speaks a little about it, but not terribly complimentarily.

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Russ, that's cool that you're going through Schrader's book. It's problematic, but there's still a lot of good stuff there (more for Ozu and Bresson than Dreyer, alas).

I haven't ever seen or read anything about the first film version, but I'd love to see it. I can, however, offer you a photograph of the first performance of the play in 1932.

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Actually, I wanted to post something else. My favorite thematic part of Ordet was how when Johannes spoke and acted like Christ, he was regarded as insane. It's something interesting to think about... if Christ did come back today to wander the earth preaching and instructing the Church (and the Bible doesn't necessarily preclude such a thing from happening, as far as I'm aware), he would be ignored, ridiculed, and called a blasphemer by the majority of the Church. Even if he did miracles, we'd attribute them to the power of Satan. It'd be almost exactly like his first coming... the people who should be closest to the truth would react most negatively to it.

If I had an ounce of screenwriting ability in me, I would write a short film about such an event. It would have Jesus running into a Christian bookstore with a whip and trashing it. Anyway, I think the message of this theme in Ordet is very powerful, and something the Church today needs to learn: don't let your Christianity cause you to ignore Christ.

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Actually, I wanted to post something else. My favorite thematic part of Ordet was how when Johannes spoke and acted like Christ, he was regarded as insane.

Good thoughts, re:Johannes. To me, he was an intreguing character--clearly mad, but sane for all his madness. He pretty much let the author say anything he wanted, comment on the action, et cetera, as the "voice of God" (both in his own mind and to the viewer.)

if Christ did come back today... [snip]... If I had an ounce of screenwriting ability in me, I would write a short film about such an event

Would you call it Joshua? wink.gif

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That's an important point, oddone, and what's even more impressive, I think, is that, while we Christians in the audience tend to assume that Johannes is crazy (such blasphemy to claim to be Christ!), the film undercuts our confidence in that opinion by leading us to dislike the Parson, who, after all, is only saying what many of us really believe.

Johannes:

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That's an important point, oddone, and what's even more impressive, I think, is that, while we Christians in the audience tend to assume that Johannes is crazy (such blasphemy to claim to be Christ!), the film undercuts our confidence in that opinion by leading us to dislike the Parson, who, after all, is only saying what many of us really believe. [snip]There are no easy theological answers to the riddles of the film (let alone its emotional and aesthetic mysteries) because the standard, easy theologocal answers are all already right there on screen, in dialogue and conflict with one another.

Good point; that must be one of the reasons I like it so much (Theology is a pet topic of mine.)

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If anyone wants to see this movie and doesn't want to drop $70 on the Criterion collection, you can order the single movie on an all region DVD from KoreanDVDs:

http://koreandvds.com/dvddetail.html?id=26200

KoreanDVDs actually ships movies from Korea, so the shipping costs can be quite high. That said, they have been an excellent retailer in my experience, and if you look around you can find some absolutely excellent stuff. I can't vouch for the quality or legality of this particular DVD release, but I know that that KoreanDVDs does not knowingly sell bootlegs.

Just throwing it out there if anyone is interested. I also saw Day of Wrath there for a cheap price also.

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What I love about the Johannes character is how you see the words he speaks in such a different light when you watch the film again. The first time he seems to be clearly mad. The second time his words are so mind blowingly prophetic. Same words.

Matt

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It rather reminds me of Henry Horn's assertion in The Christian in Modern Style that the prophet is one who imaginatively identifies himself with God, until at last he can see things as God sees them and speak as God would speak. I'm not sure the concept is accurate, but it fits Johannes, IMHO.

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(still with the spoiler warnings...)

What I love about the Johannes character is how you see the words he speaks in such a different light when you watch the film again. The first time he seems to be clearly mad. The second time his words are so mind blowingly prophetic. Same words.

Hm. Maybe it was because I had absorbed something about the film prior to watching it, but I thought Johannes seemed both mad and prophetic the first time I watched the film. The creepy moment when the doctor has gone and the apparition with the scythe returns gave me goosebumps -- it seemed clear to me that this meant Inger would die.

Having now watched the film a number of times and struggled to formulate my thoughts and put them into words, I find myself coming back to the fact that there are indications prior to the climactic revelation of the miraculous about Johannes -- his prophetic knowledge, for one thing, and the penultimate revelation of Johannes's own dramatic transformation -- something that Morten despaired of and considered a miracle that would never happen.

These indications are vital to me in watching the film. As far as I can make out, when Johannes upbraids his father for his lack of faith, if there was absolutely no way to recognize -- specifically, no way for Morten to recognize -- that there was anything supernatural at work in Johannes, that it is not simply that he was mad, end of story, then it would seem that the faith Johannes urges is simply magical confidence in getting anything we want from God, whatever we ask, as long as we have enough faith.

I know that Jesus says some things that sound like this, and I'm well aware of the danger of rationalizing away the difficulty here. But I also can't ignore the opposite pitfall of reducing faith into an attempt to work ourselves up into a state of psychological expectancy and making particular outcomes the object and the vindication of faith.

I don't want to succumb to rationalistic logic-chopping and the reductionistic apologetical impulse to get God off the hook -- not to mention myself in the weakness of my faith. But I also don't want to nod my head sagely and say "How profound" if the faith advocated by Johannes is like the notion of virtue advocated by Job's three friends -- if you have this, you don't have to worry about bad things happening to you.

I don't want to be guilty of the false humility that too easily says to God "Thy will be done" when what I ought to be saying is "Help Thou my unbelief." But my unbelief is not in fact helped by the notion that if only we really had true faith God would give us back our dead loved ones / cure our cancer / save our marriage / bring our wayward children back to the faith / etc. If Ordet has anything to say to me, it must say something different than this.

And I think it does. As I see it, the challenge of faith in Ordet is the challenge to have eyes to see and ears to hear -- to recognize the hand of God where it is at work, to recognize as it were the divine plucking on one's sleeve. When Mikkel comes to faith in the end, it's like Thomas saying "My Lord and My God" after Jesus appears to him. By contrast, when Peter proclaims Jesus the Christ in Matthew 16, various interpretations are still possible: "Some say you are John the Baptist, others Elijah, others one of the prophets." Through the eyes of faith Peter perceives what the Father wishes to reveal to him while it is not yet openly manifest.

Faith here doesn't mean believing any self-proclaimed prophet or messiah that comes along; it does mean recognizing the real thing. Johannes, though legitimately mad for most of the film, is the real thing, and Morten might have known it had he more faith. Not that I disparage him myself: It's one thing for me to see the signs that Morten missed; it's another to say what I would have done in his place, just as it's one thing for us today to see the signs that Jesus was the Messiah, but another to say that had we lived at the time we would have been among those who recognized him.

And of course the real question for me is not how I would have read the signs that were there for Morten, but whether in fact I read the signs in my own life -- whether or not I perceive the hand of God and am willing to follow in faith where he wishes to lead me.

That, so far, is what I take away from Ordet.

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Hm. Maybe it was because I had absorbed something about the film prior to watching it, but I thought Johannes seemed both mad and prophetic the first time I watched the film. The creepy moment when the doctor has gone and the apparition with the scythe returns gave me goosebumps -- it seemed clear to me that this meant Inger would die.

Oh yes - I meant specifically at the start of the film.

Matt

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I was discussing the film this weekend with a friend from our viewing group who I'd shown the film to a couple of years ago. He hit on how great Mikkel's line "I loved her body also" is at that moment, and I agree. It's really become one of my favorite lines in a film that's filled with memorable ones. It's tempting to see the line as one last indicia of Mikkel's unbelief, illustrating his devotion to the physical and living over the metaphysical, but instead I think the line says so much to prepare us for the greatness of her resurrection, where Mikkel's physical love and Johannes's spiritual faith are fused in that instant of life. Yes, her soul would be with God at her death, but ours is not the faith of the flesh-hating Gnostics, hating these physical bodies and pining for an incorporeal existence. It's a faith that allows us to love these bodies also. Inger's spirit-- her kindness, her womanly and motherly uniqueness and protective grace and wisdom-- are contained in her body and manifested in her body. She's a beautiful woman in every sense of the word. And for the film to return our attention to this physical body in the midst of the emotional release of the reconciliation between Morten and Peter and on the cusp of Johannes's spiritual release...well, the film is genius.

Edited by Russ

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re: "I loved her body also"

I wasn't at all surprised when, after forcing her to watch Ordet, my wife told me that this was her favorite line. She has a really low tolerance for piety, and that moment is like a shaking of the shoulders to anyone who would think that this is all just a question of theology that can be answered through an intellectual debate or, as SDG suggested, through some simplistic idea of faith as just childlike belief.

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Cahiers: This way of proceeding seems revelatory of what is constantly found in your films: the beauty of the soul and the body as revealed one by the other. This is also perhaps what you have in common with Kaj Munk, who, for a pastor, eulogizes the body as well as the soul of woman, both creations of God. You do not separate them either.

Dreyer: I was so much happier doing Ordet when I felt myself very close to the conceptions of Kaj Munk. He always spoke well of love. I mean to say, of love in general, between people, as well as love in marriage, true marriage. For Kaj Munk, love was not only the beautiful and good thoughts that can link man and woman, but also a very profound link. And for him there was no difference between sacred and profane love. Look at Ordet. The father is saying, "She is dead . . . she is no longer here. She is in heaven . . ." and the son answers, "Yes, but I loved her body too. . . ."

What is beautiful, in Kaj Munk, is that he understood that God did not separate these two forms of love. That is why he didn't separate them either."

Cahiers du Cin

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Quick: Somebody needs to point out something wrong with the film. Something imperfect about it. Otherwise, I'm just going to detonate with admiration.

Doug, is that interview from a collection of Cahiers essays or some other source?

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I don't know which is more impressive--that the film is so perfect or that every piece of it is completely intentional?

The interview was from the 1967 OOP Interviews with Film Directors edited by Andrew Sarris.

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Russ wrote:

: Quick: Somebody needs to point out something wrong with the film. Something

: imperfect about it. Otherwise, I'm just going to detonate with admiration.

Hmmm. Well, there's always mdprins's 'How BREAKING THE WAVES is better than ORDET':

* Better acting by actor playing the mentally-impaired Christ figure: I'll take Watson's performance over Rye's without question, but I thought Rye's performance was the worst in the film -- his Jesus was odd rather than hauntingly odd.

* Less predictable: I guessed every major plot development but one (Johannes disappearance) in the last half of ORDET by the midpoint of the film.

* Better cameo by God: I'm avoiding spoilers, but I wasn't as blown away by the last scene of ORDET as I was by the same scene in BREAKING THE WAVES.

* No glass-breaking scene in ORDET: 'Nuff said.

Granted, mdprins goes on to list the ways in which Ordet surpasses Breaking the Waves, too, though he ultimately gives the edge to the latter film and not the former.

He also gives both films an A-, which leads me to wonder what sorts of films he has given an A or an A+. At any rate, presumably he, for one, would not consider Ordet "perfect".

As I have not seen the film in about ten years, I can't really comment on this myself.

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