The judge in a Danish town sees his illegitimate daughter facing a trial for the murder of her newborn child, and is rather sure that she will be sentenced to death. She became pregnant ... See full summary »
The Mothers' Aid is a state-funded institution with branches all over Denmark. Erna, a young pregnant woman, has asked a doctor to carry out an abortion, but instead he advised her to go to... See full summary »
The judge in a Danish town sees his illegitimate daughter facing a trial for the murder of her newborn child, and is rather sure that she will be sentenced to death. She became pregnant from an aristocrat who didn't want to marry her. The same fate happened to her mother, although he wasn't allowed to marry because of a vow he had given to his father who had to marry under rank after the girl got pregnant. As expected the sentence for his daughter is death, he asks for a pardon, but this isn't granted although he is promoted. So he decides to free her and get her out of the country at all costs. Written by
Stephan Eichenberg <email@example.com>
This film is very interesting for various reasons. I will here look briefly at its style, which was explicitly made by Dreyer (confirmed in a letter to Erik Ulrichsen 11th March 1958, now in the Danish Film Museum) to make the interiors reflect the characters. For this, he modeled the sets after paintings by Vilhelm Hammershøi and James Whistler. This is very apparent if one looks at Whistler's portrait of his Mother against a gray wall, and the many Hammershøi paintings where he balances the model(s) also against gray, cool blue or white walls decorated with a few small portraits strictly arranged. I would also like to add that a lot of the white faces and hands, which Dreyer often frames in almost complete darkness, reminds me of how the graphic work by Edvard Munch can make any face look like a premature death mask. There is certainly in this film much interplay between the Nordic darkness of the soul and the barren interiors of the late aristocracy. These arrangements make the film appear as a well thought out study of how to balance painterly and cinematographic style. However, many of these carefully constructed scenes are very short. I would assume that longer takes would make for a very much more beautiful and contemplative film, but alas it would also slow down the hectic and melodramatic plot, which just gets more frantic with each scene, ending in a tour de force of cross cutting a la Griffith. So in a way the plot kills the style. Oh well.
The current version was created in 1999 from the original nitrate negative and released on DVD in 2004 by the Danish Film Institute. It is tinted in amber, blue and red. Compared with film stills I have seen in black and white, the DVD looks very dark. For example the scene when Karl Victor reads the letter informing him that it is his daughter that will be prosecuted for infanticide, the wallpaper behind him is completely obscured, making the white passepartout framing the portrait on the wall shine in the darkness. In the still of the same scene you can clearly see the pattern in the wallpaper around the picture, making the whole scene more naturally lighted. Since the lightning in the film as a whole is full of dark imagery, this loss of detail makes the film look more expressionistic and gloomy than originally intended. Of course, that might only make it more interesting for fans of Nosferatu, Vampyr and other Gothic nightmares. But Præsidenten is not a Gothic tale, but rather a moral melodrama typical of its time, with echoes of Ibsen, Strindberg and Söderberg (writer of Gertrud). But as seen in the current version, it certainly looks Gothic - and some might find its charm just because of that.
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