Saturday, October 10, 2009

Du skal ære din Hustru

Kunnioita vaimoasi / L'angelo del focolare / The Master of the House / Thou Shalt Honor Thy Wife
DK 1925. PC: Palladium Film. D, AD: Carl Th. Dreyer; SC: Carl Th. Dreyer, Svend Rindom, based on the play Tyrannens Fald [“Fall of a Tyrant”] by Svend Rindom (1919); DP: George Schnéevoigt; CAST: Johannes Meyer (Viktor Frandsen), Astrid Holm (Ida, his wife), Karin Nellemose (Karen, their daughter), Mathilde Nielsen (Mads), Clara Schønfeld (Alvida Kryger, Ida’s mother), Johannes Nielsen (doctor), Petrine Sonne (washerwoman); orig: 2430 m; 2196 m /18 fps/ 107 min
From: DFI. English intertitles. E-subtitles in Italian, grand piano: Donald Sosin. Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, 10 Oct 2009.

From the GCM Catalogue: "For decades, Dreyer was cinema’s great opponent of bigotry and persecution. Leaves from Satan’s Book (1920), influenced by Griffith’s Intolerance, had established this image, and the idea was cemented with La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc, Dreyer’s official masterpiece as well as a landmark in film history. With the sound films Day of Wrath (1943) and Ordet (1955), it wasn’t hard to see Dreyer’s constant theme revolved around social and religious dogmatism.
In the 1970s, a British print with the English title The Master of the House began circulating in 16mm in the US and the UK. Critics could interpret it as another instance of Dreyer’s critique of intolerance, this time domestic rather than religious. It could also be seen as a quasi-feminist film. True, the heroine never becomes as defiant as Ibsen’s Nora; Ida is reluctant to leave Victor to the tough love of Mads. But the portrayal of the unemployed husband, wandering the streets and stopping off at a bar, points up how economic conditions could foster female oppression. Victor’s wounded pride makes him a tyrant at home, and wife and children suffer the consequences. Yet the film’s overt moral, given in the original title Thou Shalt Honor Thy Wife, could hardly be considered progressive: The film, in a subdued comic vein, defends traditional marriage, and a happy ending assures us that Johannes has reformed. Du skal aere din Hustru was a prototype of the “contradictory text”, the movie that gives with one hand but takes away with the other.
As more of Dreyer’s silent films became visible, and as critics began to take a closer look at Day of Wrath, Ordet, and Gertrud, it became clear that Dreyer was fascinated by the overwhelming, almost supernatural power of love, both spiritual and erotic. Seduced by a glittering princess, the callow Michael abandons his older lover, the master painter Zoret, who records his sorrow in a brooding triptych. In The Parson’s Widow, the young minister must marry an elderly woman to get a post, while keeping his girlfriend secret. Other women become figures of awesome power – blasphemous in Day of Wrath, miraculous in Ordet. Even Gertrud in the film of that name tries to defy death by demanding eternal devotion from the imperfect men around her. In this context, Ida becomes another holy woman; Victor fails to recognize his household saint.
By screening so many films – good, bad, and indifferent – in bulk, the classic years of the Giornate allowed historians to trace the history of cinematic forms in unprecedented detail. Now we could see “the evolution of film language” in slow motion, as it were. It became clear that while older directors of the 1910s embraced a long-take, staging-based aesthetic, a younger generation, debuting between 1915 and the early 1920s, had embraced American continuity editing. Lang, Murnau, Gance, L’Herbier, Kuleshov, and many others came of age as Hollywood cinema was sweeping the world after World War I. For them the new editing style seems to have been as cutting-edge as digital visual effects were in the early 2000s.
Yet this generation didn’t take up the new style unthinkingly; many directors, such as the Soviets, pushed it in new directions. In his own quiet way, so did Dreyer. Michael shows that he had mastered the skills of assembling shots of people arrayed around a dinner table, but in Du skal aere din Hustru, he sets himself a harder problem. He must film a play set entirely within an apartment. Shooting “in the round”, he cuts, with smooth matches, to a wider variety of angles than we would typically find in the Hollywood cinema. In place of Hollywood’s axis of action, or 180-degree line, Dreyer creates an enveloping space around the characters – showing all four walls, matching figure movements to and from the camera.
Dreyer’s exploration of a circular playing space is akin to the strategy we find in Lubitsch’s masterful Lady Windermere’s Fan, with the camera inside a triangular zone marked out by three characters. Dreyer would further explore the possibilities of his “circular” staging and shooting. Jeanne d’Arc builds the space of the action out of fragments filmed from virtually any point in space, while in the more sinuous, enclosed spaces of the sound films, from Vampyr to Gertrud, tableaux are wrapped in camera movements. Considered in the history of film style, Du skal aere din Hustru stands as a powerful – perhaps by now canonical – effort to find new expressive possibilities in the editing strategies that were becoming the lingua franca of world filmmaking. – David Bordwell".

Revisited Dreyer's original and effective drama-comedy about an autocratic father and the women's counterplan to bring justice to the household. The quality of the print is acceptable, but there are reportedly in France better source materials from which a better print could be produced.

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