The are two families at odds in Ordet as a spiritual battle unravels between the Borgens and the Petersens. This film is hard to watch at first; it lacks much action or excitement of any kind. But you may find that it sticks with you in unexpected ways. In a career spanning 45 years, Danish filmmaker Carl Theodore Dreyer gave us only 14 feature films. But if each of his films featured the same level of painstaking production values and artistic integrity as Ordet, Dreyer deserves his place in history.
- Director: Carl Theodore Dreyer
- Writer: Carl Theodore Dreyer, Kaj Munk
- Cast: Henrik Malberg, Emil Hass Christensen, Cay Kristiansen, Preben Lerdorff Rye, Birgitte Federspiel, Ejner Federspiel
Morten (Henrik Malberg) is an elderly man living in a pious Danish town, a town where he and his three sons encounter situations of religious nature. With a loose religious mindset, Morten must face the implications of his beliefs when his daughter in law (Birgitte Federspiel) falls gravely ill. Meanwhile, Morten family clashes with the more rigid views of the Petersen family.
In large part, Ordet feels like a theatrical production on film, giving the acting performances center stage. With a great spiritual intensity, Morten’s son Johannes (Preben Lerdorff Rye) is insane, and professes to those around him that he is the son of God. To explain away disbelievers he retorts, “people believe in the dead Christ but not in the living.” Rye’s acting is convincing in this role, conveying both a detachment from reality with a ironclad belief in his own words. He gets to be exhausting during the first act, but he grows on you by the end. His conviction has to be strong, since even pastors come to ask him to prove himself.
While Dreyer provides us with a comprehensive plot that places us in close quarters with a farming family, Ordet is concerned with more than just plot. The physical space is not only confining, it rarely changes. But the film’s focus lies mostly in the spiritual meditations embedded within the dialogue. Watching Ordet often feels as though you’re witnessing open discussions about religious beliefs, and the best one takes place when Morten visits a local tailor named Peter (Ejner Federspiel). Peter has strong beliefs, and Ordet is most engaging when he explains to Morten why he refuses to allow his daughter marry Morten’s son, Anders (Cay Kristiansen). Staged simply with both at a table, they speak to each other but also seem to be speaking towards the fourth wall. But despite the theatricality of the scene, the dialogue is gripping enough that the austerity of the setting adds weight to each word.
Brief Words for Mr. Ebert:
I am in agreement with Mr. Ebert when he states that Ordet is a difficult film to enter, but also, that once you’re inside, it is impossible to escape. The appeal of Ordet is greatly based on the intimate and focused screenplay, not to mention the strong acting performances that do a fine job executing each line. The screenplay gives each character full weight. As Ebert mentions, “when characters talk, it listens, and every word is measured, none glib or careless.” I also agree with Mr. Ebert that the film perhaps only reaches its grip on most audiences when Morten and Peter discuss their differences. I found this scene captivating and unexpected. I’m not sure I yet hold a full appreciation for Dreyer’s austere style, which is often compared to Robert Bresson and Yasujiro Ozu. However, I look forward to watching his The Passion of Joan of Arc, which is often named among the 10 greatest films of all time.
Good, Bad or Great Movie: GOOD
Do you like Ordet? Do you consider this film to be Good, Bad, or does it stand up as Great?
Next week’s review: 3 Women
Years ago, ScreenCrave contributor Jaime Lopez privately began tackling Roger Ebert’s “Greatest Films” list, an ever-expanding monolith of celluloid currently comprised of approximately 354 films. Lopez has set himself to put these remaining films’ “Greatness” to the test–reviewing both the movies themselves and Ebert’s response. By taking on Carl Theodore Dreyer’s Ordet this week, he now has 311 under his belt and less than 100 films left to go.