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DAY OF WRATH(Vredens Dag) (director/writer: Carl Theodor Dreyer; screenwriters: book by Hans Wiers Jenssen/Poul Knudsen/Mogens Skot-Hansen; cinematographer: Karl Andersson; editors: Anne Marie Petersen/Edith Schlüssel; music: Poul Schierbeck; cast: Thorkild Roose (Rev. Absalom Pedersson), Lisbeth Movin (Anne Pedersdotter–his second wife), Sigrid Neiiendam (Merete, Absalon’s Mother), Preben Lerdorff Rye (Martin), Olaf Ussing (Laurentius), Anna Svierkier (Marte Herlof), Albert Høeberg (The Bishop); Runtime: 97; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Carl Theodor Dreyer; Janus; 1943-Denmark-in Danish with English subtitles)
“There couldn’t be a clearer statement made about the powerful who persecute their subjects in the name of religion and about what it’s like to live under a dictatorship.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A visually stark masterpiece in realism that brings on an almost insufferable emotional energy level. The tragedy is haunting and unforgettable. It’s a brilliant but somber tale from Carl Theodor Dreyer (“Ordet”/Gertrud”) about the Danish church’s persecution of women as so-called witches in the 17th century (the story is set in 1623 in an unnamed small Dane village); it’s made in Denmark during the Nazi occupation (as the comparison between the all-powerful 17th-century Protestant church and the Nazis for having the same capacity for intolerance is unmistakable). This grim, austere psychological drama about evil doers posing as the good guys also includes a tale of adultery to go along with the witchcraft. It’s based on the book by Hans Wiers Jenssen that was turned into the play “Anne Pedersdotter.” Its more far-ranging theme reasserts Dreyer’s assertion that witchcraft works and is more potent than orthodox religion, but they also must pay the piper for their perversion of the soul. No one gets out of here unscathed who tries to alter the legitimate ways of the world with their perverse arts (witchcraft) or religions (suspect rituals and trials).

A pious parson inquisitor named Laurentius (Olaf Ussing) condemns a mortally weak-minded elderly woman, Marte Herlof (Anna Svierkier), to torture (that becomes so unbearable she confess her witchcraft crimes) and then to die at the stake after she had been denounced as a witch. Another elderly parson, who acts as a judge, Absalom Pedersson (Thorkild Roose), fails to save her life even after she begs him and threatens to denounce his young second wife Anne (Lisbeth Movin) as a witch. Marte claims that the hypocritical Absalom refused to condemn Anne’s mother when she was suspected of being a witch in order to marry her beautiful child, after his first wife died. Before Marte dies in a blaze of black-and-white chiaroscuro, she puts a curse on the hypocrite parsons that they will both soon die. To prepare for her dying scene, Dreyer had Svierkier tied to a ladder near the fire while the cast went to lunch. When they returned they shot the scene and Svierkier had the look of someone really suffering at the stake. The actress told this in an interview.

Meanwhile in Absalom’s cheerless house, his beloved son Martin (Preben Lerdorff Rye), who is a little older than his stepmother, returns from his travels. The two youngsters can’t resist having an affair, and they soon bring the sounds of laughter to a home where there is no laughter. Absalom’s mean-spirited domineering mother Merete (Sigrid Neiiendam), who always hated Anne and her mother, makes life unbearable for her daughter-in-law, not even letting her keep the keys to the house. But Anne has found happiness through her love of Martin, and when the guilt-ridden Martin says he’s leaving the house the flustered Anne vows to not let him go. Absalom has been away all day sitting up with the dying Laurentius to comfort him until he passed away late at night. Upon his return Anne is determined to be free of her husband. She boldly tells him about the affair with his son and wishes him dead for standing in the way of her happiness. Absalom is so crushed that he cries out to his son in the next room, but dies before receiving an answer. While standing by Absalom’s casket, Merete denounces Anne as a witch who brought about her son’s death which prompts Martin to desert his lover and stand by his grandmother’s side. Anne does not deny the charge but proudly stands erect while grimly prepared to accept the judgment of those who hold her life in their hands.

There couldn’t be a clearer statement made about the powerful who persecute their subjects in the name of religion and about what it’s like to live under a dictatorship.

REVIEWED ON 7/27/2005 GRADE: A +

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”