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Based on the 1918 novel 'Elsker hverandre' by Aage Madelung, the film follows various lives, one of which is Jewish girl Hanne Liebe, as she grows up, and experiences the pains of living as a Jew in Russia, leading to a revolution.
Carl Theodor Dreyer
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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 »
Carl Theodor Dreyer
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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
This is an early film on a homosexual theme: older painter, and younger, prettier model and developing artist. This happens to have been the preferred arrangement in the ancient world as well.
(I will note at this moment that this aspect of the film did not hold a great deal of personal interest for me; my eye was drawn more to the heaving bosom of one of the noblewomen.)
The theme is handled quite discreetly. Could contemporary audiences have missed it entirely? But the film would have had no point then. This presumed relationship is conveyed mostly through glances and tone, plus one more explicit statement at the end.
Since the model is also the painter's adopted son, much of the drama takes the form of parent vs. petulant, ungrateful offspring -- more traditional subject matter in other words. The son takes up with a pretty princess, disappointing his father.
Some of the character definition is unusual. The father smokes a pipe with a very long stem, like Bilbo Baggins or some other hobbit. An artist's affectation? The son has a sensitive side; he's a big fan of Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan in "The Kid" (1921). Blatant movie references are very common now, but it's really strange to see one in 1924.
I referred to the Graeco-Roman world earlier. If there are any classical analogies at work here, then this is a Jupiter-Ganymede story where Ganymede runs off with one of Io, Europa, or Callisto. Officially Ganymede was Jupiter's cupbearer, and this film has a recurrent leitmotif involving a set of English glasses. Coincidence? But I think I am seeing subtext when there really isn't any. Perhaps there were mythological strands running through the original novel.
I personally found this scenario to be fairly overwrought and uninvolving. However there is a very fine performance by Benjamin Christensen as the painter, plus simply stand-out photography and set decoration. These upper-class rooms are even more finely appointed than the ones in "Mockery", directed by Christensen in 1927, and that was an MGM production. Overall credit is due to director Carl Dreyer for the film's virtues.
The print which was shown at Cinematheque Ontario is part of a touring Christensen retrospective which had played in September at MOMA in New York. The booklet produced for the New York screenings is a very good one, "Benjamin Christensen: An International Dane" edited by Jytte Jensen.
The film itself was actually entitled "Michael" and had intertitles in German. The original novelist I'm sure was billed as Hermann Bong [sic], rather than Herman Bang, while the young lovers were called (Eugene) Michael and Princess Zamikow rather than Mikaël and Zamikoff.
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