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Carl Theodor Dreyer
How do we understand faith and prayer, and what of miracles? August 1925 on a Danish farm. Patriarch Borgen has three sons: Mikkel, a good-hearted agnostic whose wife Inger is pregnant, Johannes, who believes he is Jesus, and Anders, young, slight, in love with the tailor's daughter. The fundamentalist sect of the girl's father is anathema to Borgen's traditional Lutheranism; he opposes the marriage until the tailor forbids it, then Borgen's pride demands that it happen. Unexpectedly, Inger, who is the family's sweetness and light, has problems with her pregnancy. The rational doctor arrives, and a long night brings sharp focus to at least four views of faith. Written by
And the rest of us, all the rest of us, we go straight down to hell to eternal torments, don't we? Yes, that's what you think, isn't it?
Yes. Words, words, you have them all right.
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Ordet is about faith. It may be the most breathtaking exploration of religious experience ever filmed.
The story is simple, like an old tale. Borgen is a farmer. His son Anders loves Pedersen the tailor's daughter. But Borgen and Pedersen profess different faiths; Pedersen adheres to an austere fundamentalist belief while Borgen believes in an earthier, less metaphysical Christianity. While cordial to each other, both fathers oppose their children's wish to marry.
Borgen has two other sons, a cheerful agnostic named Michel, and Johannes, who studied to be a parson and who now has gone insane pondering the imponderables of faith and doubt. Johannes wanders out in the middle of the night to preach to the wind, and he declares to anyone who will listen that he is the risen Christ.
Michel's wife Inger is the key figure in the drama. She is a radiant, simple, hard-working wife and mother. She honors old Borgen, her father-in-law, and he clearly adores her. Michel and Inger have a frankly carnal love for one another; she is pregnant with their third child. She has the most elemental kind of Christian faith, and trusts that her husband's essential goodness of heart will lead him back to the fold.
All these characters and forces come together in a terrible crisis when Inger goes into premature labor. I'll not divulge the climax, for you should have the same experience of wonder and gratitude I--and probably most moviegoers who've ever seen it--had as it ended.
Two important notes: All this Christianity stuff may turn you off, may make you think Ordet is some gloomy Scandinavian meditation. Banish that thought. While slow-moving, the movie is not boring. The pace is perfect for the subject, and as the crisis comes and the film relentlessly heads toward climax, you cannot take your eyes off it, and your heart pounds in fear and anticipation of what will happen next. Nor is the picture especially intellectual. It is, rather, beautiful, and its themes are articulated in the language of cinema, not the categories of Kierkegaard.
That language, finally, is Carl Dreyer's. His unmistakable film grammar--the hauntingly lit intereriors, the long pans from place to place in the same room, the slightly detached yet intense performances, the most purely photographed exteriors in cinema, echoing the Danish pictorial tradition of Hammershoi, Pedersen, and others who worked a modest magic with the windswept elements of Denmark's hard land--this fiercely personal vision is put to the service of something rare in the movie business (or any other business): love.
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