Denmark (1964) Dir. Carl Theodor Dreyer
Gertrud (Nina Pens Rode) is a former opera singer married to lawyer and rising politician Gustav Kanning (Bendt Rothe) but believes her husband is more in love with his career and status than her.
She announces that she has a lover in younger pianist Erland Jansson (Baard Owe) and wants a divorce from Kanning but at a dinner party held for a former lover of Gertrud’s, poet Gabriel Lidman (Ebbe Rode), a confrontation with her erstwhile beau and the return of another admirer, Axel Nygren (Axel Strøbye), has Gertrud contemplating her idea of true love.
This is the final film from acclaimed auteur Carl Theodor Dreyer, made in 1964 and one that met with a mixed reaction. There is a temptation to label this as “Bergman-esque” but that would feel as little spurious since Dreyer was a major influence on Bergman.
Based on a 1906 play by Hjalmar Söderberg, this feels in many places as the direct filming of the play, since it contains many scenes featuring two people just sitting and talking. In fact, this film is remarkable for the minimal amount of shots (something like just 90 shots in the whole 110 minute film) preferring to rely on long single takes – one conversation piece between Gertrud and Lidman runs for almost 10 minutes without a single cutaway.
Technically this is a vivid and elegant looking film but the script material is verbose and lacking in energy. Gertrud is forever staring into outer space, never once regarding any of her male companions with any sort of eye contact and she drones on in a self indulgent ramble while the men try their best to understand what is troubling her.
To be honest, Gertrud is highly dislikeable and thus, while it is hard to see why she attracts so many admirers, it is easier to understand why the men are more interested in themselves and their careers. Then again the men aren’t particularly easy to warm to either, with young Erland confessing he already has a pregnant woman on the go and sees the infatuate Gertrud as a conquest.
Dreyer is a highly regarded director with many seminal works in his canon, but this swan song four years before his death is a dour and heavy going way to bow out.