Ordet

Film Criticism, Movies

I have to admit to being pleasantly surprised by Ordet, the 1955 film by Carl Theodor Dreyer, the same director who created 1928’s The Passion of Joan of Arc. I was not fond of Dreyer’s earlier entry on BFI’s Greatest Films of All Time and was concerned that I would likewise be unimpressed by Ordet. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Ordet is a masterpiece.

The film opens slowly, and, at first, I feared another trying film experience. Although Ordet begins subtly, it builds to a stunning and surprising climax. It is a mesmerizing treatise on religion. It is not only a thoughtful exploration of how faith differs from belief but also a moving film about sympathetic characters.

Ordet is a very serious film, probably the most serious that I’ve seen so far from The List. The plot is a fairly straightforward story of two Danish families: those of the Borgen farm and those of a nearby tailor. Morten (Henrik Malberg), the patriarch of the Borgen farm, has three sons: Mikkel (Emil Hass Christensen), the eldest who is married to Inger (Birgitte Federspiel); Johannes (Preben Lerdorff Rye), who believes he is Jesus Christ; and Anders (Cay Kristiansen), who wishes to marry the tailor’s daughter. At first, Morten does not want Anders to marry into the tailor’s family because they practice a different sect of Christianity, but when he hears that the tailor, Peter Peterson (Ejner Federspiel), refuses to allow Anders to marry his daughter, Morten is outraged at the perceived insult. Meanwhile, the Borgen family struggles with Johannes’ behavior. His slowly delivered monologues reveal difficult truths. At a critical moment, the seemingly mad Johannes wanders off causing the family to set out in a failed search for him. All this drama is temporarily set aside when a tragedy strikes the Borgen family and eventually brings the two families together in an unexpected way.

Ordet is a beautifully shot film, despite the fact the the proceedings rarely leave the Borgen home. The final sequence is striking in the way that Dreyer contrasts its look from the rest of the film.

Ordet is a rich and complex film, one that is difficult to fully grasp but will reward patient effort.

  1. Metropolis (1927)
  2. Ordet (1955)
  3. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
  4. Citizen Kane (1941)
  5. Rashomon (1950)
  6. Tokyo Story (1953)
  7. The Rules of the Game (1939)
  8. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
  9. City Lights (1931)
  10. Seven Samurai (1954)
  11. Bicycle Thieves (1948)
  12. Ugetsu Monogatari (1953)
  13. The General (1926)
  14. Journey to Italy (1954)
  15. The Man with the Movie Camera (1929)
  16. Late Spring (1949)
  17. L’Atalante (1934)
  18. Battleship Potemkin (1925)
  19. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

Next Up: Pather Panchali