Follows the lives of the Borgen family, as they deal with inner conflict, as well as religious conflict with each other, and the rest of the town.Follows the lives of the Borgen family, as they deal with inner conflict, as well as religious conflict with each other, and the rest of the town.Follows the lives of the Borgen family, as they deal with inner conflict, as well as religious conflict with each other, and the rest of the town.
Three women are central in Dreyer's last three films, one every decade. In Days of Wrath she was trapped in a loveless marriage and looking for love she had been denied by a cruel turn of events. Here comes the second woman, in a loving marriage to one of three sons of a powerful father figure, radiant, kind, and eager for that love to flourish and spread in the household. The younger son has found love, she petitions the father to give his consent.
God stands between the two households which are locked in dispute about marriage, god implying a whole view of how the world is put together. The pater famiglia in the farmhouse believes in god as embracing the fullness of life, the tailor down the village espouses a mortifying god that rejects this life for the next. None of them is ready to give ground.
This disputation about god takes an even eerier shape; there's another son who has gone mad by an inner search for god and believes himself to be Jesus; the father's wish for someone to wake up mankind, a desire for a living voice for god, but that has given him a broken son, from his own pov, who is looked on with pity as an invalid. The father hopes against hope that he might come to his senses.
So, unable to set aside their ego in favor of loving- kindness, the woman who had embodied love falls to die. The father hastens back, a long, hard night of the soul follows as childbirth goes awry and her life hangs in the balance.
Okay now we have most of the parts; the whole is filmed in austere flows, almost entirely setbound in the two houses, as sparse as the god of these people. Dreyer is clearly on the side of the farmer, for a living god; you'll see this in how eager he is to sketch complex human beings, this is a man who takes pleasure in the brushing and slow reveal of human character, therein lies the richness. The scenes with the little girl and her mad uncle are some of the most heart- aching.
The parts in which Dreyer ruminates explictly on god and faith in a faithless world I pass by without much interest, I simply don't know what use I have for them, for example when the father is asked by a doctor if science saved his daughter-in-law or his own faith. I simply don't perceive them to be the matter of real spirituality, or in any way a road that leads out of a stifled soul. God will never make himself known in the way that tormented piety expects so it's moot to agonize, no? The world is always aglow with spirituality so long as the eye, the heart, remain effortless, able to let each thing mean itself.
Now we come to the famous ending with the miracle; one of the most famous in cinema probably.
It's possible, for Dreyer, that our ability to accept it or not is a test of our faith in the possibility of transcendence, it might be a case that to reject it out of hand is to already have a heart that is hardened. I don't know how much stock I would put in this view. For one, accepting it at face value, suspending disbelief, does it abet an eye that sees in fresh light something fundamental about how the world is put together?
Another IMDb reviewer makes a great observation, the woman looks eerie when she comes to, almost vampire-like. It's no accident that Dreyer has her almost bite her husband, cling with mouth agape, eyes unfocused, muttering "life" as if unable to remember kind of thing it is, joyous occasion or horrible ordeal.
No, I think let's blow the lid on this, let's deserve a Dreyer who isn't just a pastor preaching god. (He's not)
Dreyer is not a transcendental filmmaker (Tarkovsky is), he's a purist like Ozu. He's not shuffling walls of despair until they give way to light from above, he's distilling everything down to a pure view of the house. With the miracle, he's being existential, not spiritual.
Having said this, now we can go through the whole. If god, meant broadly as what we call that, is the fullness of life, it has to include the inevitable end of life and the suffering, this too no less a part of the fullness that needs to be embraced.
Dreyer seems to ask, why have you brought her back, now that you have? Is it just to cling on her as your only way to happiness?
Above all for me, it's the the way we wander around the house where now and then an afflicted son prophesies or repudiates, how we wait and come to, that makes this indispensable viewing. Bergman and Tarkovsky both begin here, each one pursuing a different strand of Dreyer.
- Feb 25, 2016