Ordet Review

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Score

Guaranteed to make you levitate from your cinema seat in awe.

Danish maestro Carl Theodor Dreyer made two seminal films about martyrdom in which he ruthlessly demolished the inconsistencies of orthodox religion. They were 1928’s The Passion of Joan of Arc and 1943’s Day of Wrath.

With his penultimate film, Ordet – re-released ahead of a full retrospective at London’s BFI Southbank – Dreyer’s scabrous attitude appears to have mellowed somewhat.

Here, theological antagonism is neatly counterbalanced with a view of the spiritual life that subtly foregrounds the poetic and the profound.

Deliberately paced and austere to a tee, Ordet (translated as ‘The Word’) takes place in the unglamourous environs of a Danish farm circa 1920. The Borgen family are a contented bunch, even if their religious beliefs fuel internal squabbling.

Enlightened mother, Inger (Birgitte Federspiel), is married to Mikkel (Emil Hass Christensen) and due a baby, while her son, Anders (Cay Kristiansen), has fallen in love with the daughter of a local tailor who moonlights as a fundamentalist minister and chides the Borgen’s ‘joyful’ brand of Christianity.

Meanwhile, Mikkel’s brother Johannes (Preben Lerdorff Rye) has been driven insane by the writings of Kierkegaard and now claims to be the earthly incarnation of Jesus Christ.

Dreyer’s precise dramatising of the material imbues the film with a heady sense of the supernatural. Outward emotion is generally suppressed, and during the detailed dialogue scenes, actors seldom talk face-to-face, instead staring off into the middle distance.

It’s often considered ‘stagey’, though imposing and claustrophobic seem more apt. Edits are employed sparingly and the manner in which Dreyer’s camera floats around the spare interiors evokes a divine presence.

Ordet ebbs between conversations and philosophical altercations without ever putting its weight behind a single storyline.Then tragedy strikes. And later, that tragedy is miraculously reversed in a crescendo that remains one of the most exquisite, provocative and immaculately executed in all cinema.

Anticipation

Carl Dreyer remains a neglected master.

5

Enjoyment

No, ‘enjoyment’ is not the right word for it.

3

In Retrospect

Guaranteed to make you levitate from your cinema seat in awe.

5
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