Day of Wrath
1943, NR, 110 min. Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer. Starring Thorkild Roose, Lisbeth Movin, Sigrid Neiiendam, Preben Lerdorff Rye.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Thu., July 1, 1999
The Austin Film Society's current series is devoted to films whose greatness serves as a tribute to George Morris, the Film Society's mentor and "patron saint," and a former film critic for The Austin Chronicle. Excepted here is Morris' original review of this film by the peerless Danish stylist Carl Dreyer. "Dreyer had not made a movie in 10 years when he undertook Day of Wrath during the German occupation of Denmark. There is no historical evidence of any attempts by the accepting forces to suppress this story of persecution and rebellion, but perhaps the remote early 17th-century setting convinced the Germans that any topical significance would be lost on Danish audiences in 1943. Like Dreyer's movies, The Passion of Joan of Arc and Vampyr, Day of Wrath explores the power of the supernatural to annihilate the foundations of society. Anne (Movin) the young wife of an elderly minister (Roose), covets her husband's son (Rye) by his first wife and flagrantly tries to seduce him. When the minister is forced to interrogate and indict Old Marte (Svierkier), a woman who has been arrested for witchcraft, the crone curses him and his marriage, phophesying that Anne too will be condemned to die at the stake. The triple crosses of faith, doubt, and heresy are borne by Dreyer's characters across a cinematic landscape of darkness and light, shadow and substance. Dreyer's debt to the German roots of expressionism can be seen in the way he modulates the drama in the chamber tones of the Kammerspeil and in his taste for revealing interior emotion through decor and lighting. The director creates such a pervasive mood of interiority that even the exterior countryside where Anne and her young love rendezvous and through which pathetic Old Marte flees from her tormentors is rendered with a suffocating constriction. The windows, bars, grids, and crosses that slice the screen space further entrap the characters, physically embodying the repressive social and religious barriers to freedom. As usual, Dreyer locates the central tension of the story in the struggle between the death instinct of the male and the liberating impulses of the female. The adulteress Anne, the defenseless Old Marte, and her double, the minister's mother (Neilendam), whose moral rectitude precipitates much of her granddaughter's torment, are all seen as victims of the legal imperatives of Church and State, but it is Anne's stubborn refusal to acquiesce in her victimization that frees her to face her destiny with defiance and joy." – George Morris, 3/28/86