Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer
Production: Palladium (Denmark); black and white, 35mm; running time: 115 minutes; length: 3440 meters. Released 8 December 1964, Paris.
Producers: Jørgen Nielsen with John Hilbard as executive producer; screenplay: Carl Theodor Dreyer, from the play by Hjalmar Söderberg; photography: Henning Bendtsen with Arne Abrahamsen; editor: Edith Schlüssel; sound: Knud Kristensen; art director: Kai Rasch; music and solo numbers: Jørgen Jersild; songs: Grethe Risbjerg Thomsen; costume designer: Berit Nykjaer.
Cast: Nina Pens Rode ( Gertrud Kanning ); Bendt Rothe ( Gustav Kanning ); Ebbe Rode ( Gabriel Lidman ); Baard Owe ( Erland Jansson ); Axel Strøbye ( Axel Nygren ); Anna Malberg ( Kanning's Mother ); Edouard Mielche ( The Rector Magnificus ); Vera Gebuhr ( Kanning's Maid ); Karl Gustav Ahlefeldt; Lars Knutzon; William Knoblauch; Valsø Holm; Ole Sarvig.
Dreyer, Carl Theodor, Gertrud , in Cinque Film , Turin, 1967.
Bowser, Eileen, The Films of Carl Dreyer , New York, 1964.
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* * *
For the last 20 years of his career, Dreyer worked on a film about Jesus Christ. It was never realized, though his script was published posthumously in 1968. Near the end of his life, Dreyer was also planning a film of Medea . He was aiming at tragedy, reflected again in Gertrud , which was to be his last film.
Dreyer's last four films were based on plays. Gertrud is a 1906 play by Hjalmar Söderberg. It is a problem-drama in the manner of Ibsen, but while the play is naturalistic, the film is not. Dreyer considered the film an experiment; he wanted to co-ordinate the word and the image, to create harmony between what is seen and what is heard. The function of the images is to open up a perspective on the characters, who manifest themselves in the way they speak and move. Gertrud contains almost no close-ups; it is a film of travelling shots and long, uncut scenes. The film has only 89 shots, with very few sets and only one exterior scene. The film's depiction of life/reality is antinaturalistic and stylized, and Dreyer treats the story as a tragedy. He called the film "a portrait of time from the beginning of the century," and he has stressed typical features of that period and milieu. As in La passion de Jeanne d'Arc he has tried to transform the whole of "the past reality into camera-reality," to quote Siegfried Kracauer.
Gertrud is the last of Dreyer's many portraits of women. Gertrud, however, is not a suffering woman, submissive to men; she is superior to them. A free intellectual woman with strong willpower, she rejects the men in her life. While these men prefer their careers and pleasures, for Gertrud love is all. Gertrud knows she will always come second, and prefers to abandon men and withdraw into solitude. She knows that her demands on life cannot be fulfilled, so she chooses to live in accordance with her inner demands. In Gertrud, Dreyer finds a greatness which had also fascinated him about Jeanne d'Arc. This is not a naturalistic portrayal, but a tragic one—Gertrud is bound for defeat. Both she and the men are presented in a disquieting double light.
In many ways the 75-year-old Dreyer was in harmony with the modern, younger directors. In films by Antonioni, Godard and Truffaut the women characters often demand a love which should be placed above everything else, a love which was more than most men could or would grant. Gertrud is also amazingly in harmony with the stylistic trends of the films of the 1960s. Because Dreyer never consciously tried to keep up with his time, but kept his integrity, he was more modern in his last film than many of the directors were who tried to adjust to their time.
Gertrud , premiering in Paris, was badly received by most of the Danish and French reviewers. However, in the film magazines Gertrud did find more understanding critics. With his last film, Dreyer once again caused great controversy, even if he did not ask for it. Gertrud is still a film which divides its audience.