Film Forum’s Dreyer retro includes six of the Danish master’s 14 features. Although he was a towering figure in European cinema, nearly all of his works turned out to be commercial fiascos, and, for lack of backing, he was only able to complete five films during the last 40 years of his life. His most celebrated movie is The Passion of Joan of Arc (1927), marked by its radical use of close – ups. In a sense, though, most of Dreyer’s films are “passions,” often with an isolated female character at the center — Joan, the martyred maid of Orleans; Anne, the naive young wife accused of practicing witchcraft in Day of Wrath (1944); or the eponymous heroine of his final masterpiece, Gertrud (1964), who has abandoned the men she knows who have not lived up to her standard of love.
Vampyr (1932) remains one of the most disturbing horror films ever made; Ordet (1955), a supernatural tale of another order, is an extraordinary exploration of the clash between orthodox religion and true faith. Its drama is built around a feud between two families who belong to different religious sects and are reconciled when a woman who died in childbirth is raised from the dead. Dreyer’s mise – en – scëne depends in large part on the majestic rhythm of unusually long takes filmed in cool simplicity — everything but the essentials has been eliminated.
The series also features the New York premiere of Torben Skjodt Jensen’s rewarding doc, Carl Th. Dreyer: My Metier (1996), which makes extensive use of chats with the director about his profession and interviews with actors and technicians who worked with him — among others, Lisbeth Movin (Anne in Day of Wrath) and Henning Bendtsen, the brilliant cinematographer of Ordet and Gertrud. My favorite anecdote concerns the breakdown Dreyer suffered after completing Vampyr — he was promptly sent to the Joan of Arc Clinic to recuperate.