Ordet (1955)
January 10, 2023 10:28 PM - Subscribe

Follows the lives of the Borgen family, as they deal with inner conflict, as well as religious conflict with each other, and the rest of the town.

The three sons of devout Danish farmer Morten (Henrik Malberg) have widely disparate religious beliefs. Youngest son Anders (Cay Kristiansen) shares his father's religion, but eldest son Mikkel (Emil Hass Christensen) has lost his faith, while middle child Johannes (Preben Lerdorff Rye) has become delusional and proclaims that he is Jesus Christ himself. When Mikkel's wife, Inger (Birgitte Federspiel) goes into a difficult childbirth, everyone's beliefs are put to the test.

Philippa Hawker: Ordet poses a remarkable challenge to believers and non-believers. Shot in black-and-white, it is one of five sound features directed by Danish filmmaker Carl Theodor Dreyer. It is based on a play by Lutheran pastor Kaj Munk about a family riven by religious differences and conflicting loyalties and devastated by the death of a woman in childbirth. A family member claims he can raise her from the dead. The film unfolds in a confined space but there is nothing constrained or contained in its searching, intense approach and nothing dogmatic about its approach to its subject. Ordet feels theatrical and intensely cinematic.

Paul Schrader: The viewer gets a sense of complete control in a Carl Dreyer film; there are no missteps, no lapses, no mistakes. Rather, the film gives Dreyer's view of the world just as Dreyer envisioned it. Each shot is constructed with infinite precision, and each picture is a visual treat.

Regreattably, Dreyer's faults are almost as spectacular as his assets. All of Dreyer's films move at a painfully slow pace. It is this two-step beat of a funeral march which makes
Ordert not only pondering and powerful, but also somewhat boring. One of the most devastating accusations that can be made against a movie is that it does not move, and Dreyer's films rarely move.

Chris Fujiwara: Earlier I said that the film poses difficulties. The two main difficulties of the film—they are always remarked on—can be summed up like this: slowness, and Johannes.

The slowness cuts two ways. On the one hand, Ordet is a film of domestic rhythms, concerns, and relationships, and by pacing the script slowly, Dreyer gets us to feel the fullness of this kind of life. The pauses in the dialogue are filled with movement, with reaction, with characters hearing each other in a way that they almost never do in films. The distinctive resonance of their voices in the chamber space reinforces this impression (emphasizing not the expository function of the dialogue, but the physical presence of these voices). So do the nonverbal sounds like the clock ticking in the parlor, the rolling of Inger’s rolling-pin, or Morten Borgen’s cough, offscreen, as the camera crosses the empty space of the parlor to reach Johannes.

On the other hand, the film’s narrative might seem too mild to warrant the abrupt turn to tragedy, were it not for Dreyer’s way of staging and shooting scenes. The characters who inhabit the gleaming ordinariness of Ordet are haunted by a significance that they themselves don’t acknowledge, a significance that can’t necessarily be reduced to “God” (although religious belief is one of the main themes of the film). This significance, and the characters’ flickering access to it, is written in the slowness of their movements and those of the camera.

posted by Carillon (1 comment total)
Dreyer's films aren't necessarily for everyone; but he is a gorgeous cinematographer. There's a shot in this set at a home funeral; the deceased is lying in a casket in the living room, the head pointing at the wall between two windows. And at some point a black-robed priest comes in and stands just behind the head of the casket. The way the light is falling obscures any details in the priest's clothes - so it looks like some vast black cave, ready to swallow the dead person up forever.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:28 AM on January 11, 2023

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