Sporadically, I am going to be installing segments of my “Auteur Series.” They will be quick installments about notable directors with exciting and unique works. They’ll be contemporary or old, foreign or American, pleasing or provocative. There are thousands of great, personal movies out there and I hope these profiles can encourage people to find some of them.
For my inaugural profile, I’ll be looking at Danish Director Carl Theodor Dreyer.
Dreyer was born in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1889. Given up for adoption by his birth mother, Dreyer recounts his childhood as cold and dispassionate, as his adoptive family was strict and emotionally distant. After getting impressive grades in school, Dreyer pursued journalism and then film.
"The Passion of Joan of Arc" - considered Dreyer’s first masterpiece, this movie recounts the eponymous saint’s trial and execution. For years, all original copies of this film were thought lost, but in 1981, a print was found in the closet of a Norwegian mental hospital of all places. Dreyer constructed the entire film set, giving him an extreme degree of control over location, angles and lighting. One of the most influential elements of the film is its use of close up. Lead actress Renée Jeanne Falconetti gives a blisteringly emotional and authentic performance as the condemned woman (Dreyer wouldn’t let her use make up in order to help create a more realistic portrayal). Even though silent films tend to turn off a lot of people, the shivering sincerity in Falconetti’s tenuous eyes transcends personal taste or era; it is human and direct.
"Vampyr" - Dreyer’s first sound film plays out like a cold fever dream, with languid atmosphere and ethereal and enigmatic shots. The story follows Alan Gray, a young man investigating vampires and the supernatural. Embracing the mystic and dreamlike quality of the cinema, Dreyer’s paints a world of eeriness and icy dread.
"Ordet"- This movie depicts a Danish family in 1925, a member of which believes himself to be Jesus Christ. Dreyer’s camera hypnotically pans around the quiet milieu, crafting a universe of somber reflection. Simple in its technique, Dreyer communicates profound if challenging conceptions of spirituality.
Why You Should Watch Him
Dreyer’s film communicates the world not as it is, but how we perceive it. Whether through the lens of heartbreaking empathy, surreal otherworldliness, or spiritual transcendence, Dreyer’s cinema tells human stories as humans see them. They might seem slower and less energetic than your average Hollywood picture, but I encourage you to take a moment to detach yourself from hectic living to reflect on your values and empathy. For Christians, the Vatican includes both "The Passion of Joan of Arc" and "Ordet" in their list of greatest films ever made. Dreyer also had an affinity for depicting the psychology of women, something that is harder to find in older cinema. Dreyer’s austere, controlled visions have lasted as profound works of art for decades, and I suspect they will remain for decades to come.