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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
Music and Lyrics by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle
Played in the 2004 alternate version score in the third sequence mostly to accompany the actors singing it silently on-screen See more »
This was Dryer's third film and while his second, THE PARSON'S WIDOW, is a finely wrought, wry comedy/drama with many of the trademarks of Dreyer's later visual and dramatic forms already evident, LEAVES FROM SATAN'S BOOK is rather a throw back to the old style of silent film making - emotional posturing rather than subtlety, rare use of close-ups, tableaux composition.
So many of Murnau's early films are like this as well, then suddenly a revelation and in 1924 THE LAST LAUGH revolutionizes film making. Dreyer's style in THE PARSON'S WIDOW and MICHAEL (not to mention his masterpiece, THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC) is singular and identifiable. However, not so in LEAVES. One wonders if he simply lost interest in it and directed it pedantically to get it out of the way.
It's a very long film - two hours and ten minutes in Grapevine Video's DVD release (as opposed to one hour, 50 minutes in original release and the TCM print running nine minutes shorter than Grapevine's - 121 minutes). It is divided into four sections, showing Satan coming to earth to tempt man - and always saddened by man's weak will, for every Satanic success means more years in Hell, while every resistant human soul wins a thousand years credit against Satan's sentence.
Section One involves Judas' betrayal of Christ (27 minutes); Section Two, set during the Spanish Inquisition relates a monk's lust for a young girl (26 minutes); Section Three - the longest at 46 minutes and the most interesting - is set during the French Revolution in 1793; and Section Four was set in Dreyer's contemporary time (1918)and involves Finland and the Russian invasion - 31 minutes.
Section One is a bore since we know the story. Sections Two and Four are mildly interesting, although we can see where they are heading. Quite the best and above all the others is section Three, where the levels of drama and script are multi-layered and where we really cannot predict how it is going to turn out.
For Dreyer fans, since he made so few films (only 9 silent features and 6 talking features, plus many short subjects), this is a must for the collection, but its interest is mainly historical, as it does not contribute significantly to the art of film.
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