Wednesday 7 March 2012

From the archive: "Ordet"

First released in 1955, the great Danish director Carl Dreyer's drama Ordet (a.k.a. The Word) centres on a family who are entirely normal (if devoutly religious), with the exception of one aspect: a black-sheep son in the grip of a Christ complex, who's taken to the top of cliffs, making wild pronouncements about a forthcoming Judgement Day. While preparations are being made for his younger brother's marriage to the daughter of a family supporting somewhat more conventional beliefs, an opportunity arises for Johannes to perform the miracle he's been talking about for months...

A further example of the theatrical tendency that was there in Dreyer's work from the very start [the film was adapted from a play by the revered pastor-turned-playwright Kaj Munk], Ordet is nonetheless shot and lit with an extraordinary dynamism, making particularly unusual but striking use of clocks - and not crosses - as the wall-mounted word of God, a ticking background reminder of just how little time we have to make our peace with the world. It yields a performance of quite remarkable somnolent conviction from Preben Lerdorff-Rye as the family's equivalent of the mad monk in the attic, and even if it can't quite shake off the sensation this is the work of an old man in an increasingly permissive (yet religiously intolerant) society, the word of Dreyer still rings through loud and clear: that faith is so rare a quality in any form that to start making distinctions between those forms is pointless.

(June 2003)

Ordet is re-released in selected cinemas from Friday.

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