Mikaël is an artist who rises as his teacher, the aging Zoret, falls. Zoret gives Mikaël his start, and their relationship is sexual as well. Then Mikaël takes up with the Princess Zamikoff, selling gifts from Zoret and even stealing from the master to pay for his carnal and luxurious life with her. He abandons Zoret, whose health begins to fail but who also discovers spirituality in his solitude. In a subplot, Alice Adelsskjold cuckolds her husband and takes a lover, the Duke of Monthieu; their relationship, infused with the eroticism of art, also gives way to religion as the duke becomes ill. Written by
Having already seen other movies by Dreyer and acquiring the taste for slow camera and subtle story-telling I gave a try to his 1924 movie Michael. The story is a very simple one and you can find it dealt with in a more engaging manner in Oscar Wilde's book The Picture of Dorian Gray that appeared four decades before the movie. The similarity between the book and the movie comes from the fact that they both explore themes related to homosexuality and homoeroticism, that is the representation of desire between persons of the same sex. Though the story is never shocking, the allusions are quite daring for the time. Wilde's book was censored decades before and its author had a great deal of trouble with law-suits connected to the subject of his book. Michael is more restrained, preferring to deal with the subject in a very quiet manner. The relation between the painter and his "male muse" is represented by a certain intensity in the gaze and by hand holding. The dramatic character is the painter, a wonderful performance by the actor Benjamin Christensen, who is dependent on the younger Michael both sentimentally and professionally. He is confronted with the fact that Michael has feelings for a woman, implicitly rejecting him and causing him a great deal of suffering, from which his death will eventually occur. The movie is packed with very subtle allusions to past dramas and their representation in painting, such as the myth of Ganymede. There is also a moment when Michael shows his lover some figurines representing Chaplin, who was the hero of the silent movie in that age.
The movie encounters some problems related to the editing, the cuts are at times too abrupt, but the cinematography and the sets are too good not to see this movie. It may not be as rewarding as Dreyer's later efforts but it is still better than most of the Hollywood stuff from the same period. Here is a director that was aiming at art from the very beginning!
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