For those of you who do not have a copy of the Book with you, allow me to paraphrase sections of the Book’s text on Carl Th. Dreyer’s final film, Gertrud, that made me so heavily reluctant to get started with it: It’s a film for the older folk, for those who enjoy a film that takes its time and has no sense of urgency (or even forward motion). It is a minimalist film, with many long takes, sometimes consisting of just two people quietly talking for the duration of the shot. The production value of the film is almost nonexistent, with extremely basic sets and only one exterior scene. The film was extremely poorly received upon its release by critics and the public alike. Need I go on? Well, unfortunately, I have an obligation to; I have the rest of this review to try and explain why everything I’d heard that made me think I was going to detest Dreyer’s final film turned out to be mostly right.
Funny I would watch this right after Oklahoma, since this also essentially deals with a love triangle (or quadrangle). Gertrud is a older-aged housewife, married to one man, with a lover on the side, and an ex that shows up to allow Gertrud to relive some of her past memories. Who will Gertrud end up with? A better question is: does it really matter? The plot is definitely not enough to hold up two hours worth of material, and it is the flimsy nature of the narrative that caused me the most distress. I did enjoy the cinematography, though even these efforts seemed wasted when the film took place in one of its many minimalist sets, with no background score and a style of acting that bordered on the zombified. The long takes the Book and other resources made such a big deal about weren’t all that impressive. I got the distinct impression that Dreyer used as many long takes as he does mostly to see if he could, and the somewhat random and abrupt cuts at the end of them led me to believe he would go on with the scene as long as his resolve would last, and finally cut after enough action had taken place for fear that the actors would miss a line or a mark and they would have to try it again. Or it was merely that the film reels on the camera were only so big and could thus only contain a certain sized piece of the film at a time, but this film came out more than a decade after Rope, and that film contained exactly ten shots, so it’s not like the skill or the process is completely unknown to filmmakers at all. Speaking of skill, the film was, in all other respects, very well made (though some of the camerawork could have been a little more stable); it was just that it felt so lifeless that made the most impact on my viewing.
Even though the trance-like end result of Dreyer’s efforts (and not just in this film) did seem to work on some level, it wasn’t a level that the film was trying to place itself in, and thus the film at large did not work as well as it should’ve. This was, unfortunately, two hours of my life I will not get back. I don’t know what it is about Carl Theodor Dreyer that caused him to drop everything that made La Passion so great and instead devote himself to the stark, minimalist, and emotional beige that the rest of his films embody, and it is thus that I am forced to conclude that La Passion was a one-off, or a fluke. Oh well; I’ll retain my loving and fond memories of that classic, and largely disregard the rest of Dreyer’s oeuvre. I wouldn’t want to subject you to one of Dreyer’s films (except La Passion) against your will, so I’m sorry to say that this won’t be getting a recommendation. But, if only to end on a positive note, if I were to pick any of Dreyer’s works post-Passion that I favored more than the others, it may very well be this one.
Arbitrary Rating: 6/10