After seeing D. W. Griffith's epic Intolerance, Denmark's greatest director, Carl Theodor Dreyer (The Passion of Joan of Arc, Vampyr), was inspired to make his own four-episode historical ... See full summary »
After seeing D. W. Griffith's epic Intolerance, Denmark's greatest director, Carl Theodor Dreyer (The Passion of Joan of Arc, Vampyr), was inspired to make his own four-episode historical epic with each story told end to end, anthology-style, linked by theme to the others. The unifying character, Satan, attempts to win God's favor but is doomed to cheerless participation in dark episodes of human history: the temptation of Jesus, the Spanish Inquisition, the French Revolution and the Russo-Finnish war of 1918. Few directors resisted compromise and convention the way Dreyer did; fortunately, the Nordisk Film Company was artistically progressive by Hollywood standards and agreed that this should be a prestige film made to the highest standards. More than two years in production, Dreyer not only directed but also controlled every facet of this ambitious production. Written by
"Leaves Out of the Book of Satan" is a complex motion picture for someone who had only directed one film, but it is certainly a setback in Carl Theodor Dreyer's growth. Compared to "The President", a small but vivid work, this long film is a pompous exercise that in the end distracts from the best efforts in his filmography. Much has been said about the influence of D.W. Griffith's "Intolerance" on this film, but little is told about the Danish long tradition of feature-length films and how these probably influenced the American filmmaker. So it is a two-fold affair that adds very little to the appreciation of "Leaves Out of the Book of Satan". Here Dreyer deals with Evil as a decisive factor in the evolution of mankind, in a sort of mystic treatise for which he managed a big budget, several casts and four stories. Helse Nilssen plays Satan very well, first as a Pharisee inducing Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus, then as an Inquisitor during the imperial days of Spain, followed by the impersonation of a fanatic Jacobin during French revolution, and finally, in (then) present day, as a Bolshevik monk (resembling Rasputin) during Russian invasion of Finland. The first two parts and the conclusion last around 30 minutes each, but the French episode is long, and Satan enters late in the story. Unfortunately I share the opinion that this film is of utmost interest only to Dreyer's completists.
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