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Gertrud (1964) *Favourite Review *

 

And pause and pose and drama and LINE!
And pause and pose and drama and LINE!

Genre: Drama (Denmark) 

Starring: Nina Pens Rode, Bendt Rothe (Babette's Feast)

Directed By: Carl Theodor Dreyer (The Passion of Joan of Arc  • Vampyr)

Overview: A middle-aged woman with a glorious ideal of love pursues it without compromise.

Well, 1001 Movies I Must Suffer Through As An Attempt To Show Me What It's Like To Die has not been good to me of late. The painful Golden Coach, the mood-killing Captain Blood, the unfunny and not so Nutty Professor and the 'how-did-this-B-cinema-sludge-make-the-list' Black Cat are very recent viewings I've had the pleasure of reviewing for the past month. When I say pleasure, I mean it, because I tend to prefer writing rants over praise. Thank God bad movies have their up side. This is a fiery Vituperatem after all, is it not? Hell, let's toss in another log. That brick of flammable boredom is Gertrud, the story of a blind woman, or so I thought. 

Gertrud is the tale of a brave woman without compromise. We open with her telling her husband that she will no longer stay with him, because he no longer loves her completely and with his everything. A long-take conversation follows discussing the why. The answer is Gertrud's raison d'être: Love. For her, Love is all, it is the capital "L" that is more important than Life itself and her life is the constant and undying pursuit of a Love that is all-encompassing, passionate and pure. From this long-take conversation with her husband, to another long-take conversation with a new lover, to yet another long-take conversation with an old lover from the past, we explore Gertrud and her solitary hobby, that of being passionately fawned over by men. Twists, climaxes and the nugget of reason for the tale all relate back to the one question “will she ever find what she’s looking for?” For those of you who are into Danish Criterion Collection dramas about middle aged women fumbling their way through their mid-life crises, well this one is for you! For ye who appreciate awkwardly acted tales rich with extended scenes of droning monologues in bare white rooms, by all means put this on your must-see list! As for me, I’ll go into some details that answer why this was so painful to watch.

And avoid and stand and pose and LINE!
And avoid and stand and pose and LINE!

The first shot of the film is Gertrud’s husband walking from a door to the middle of an elegant room. These first five second had me instantly wondering if this was Nouvelle Vague French cinema, complete with amateur actors so new to the craft that they can’t even walk without looking strange. When she is called into the room, Gertrud’s stare is one into the void. Knowing nothing of the film beforehand, I thought it the story of a blind woman. For a full five minutes I knew Gertrud was blind, as she never made eye contact with her husband throughout her conversation with him. Soon I realized that this was a thematic device, and one that Dreyer would use throughout his film. The entire movie is comprised of Gertrud talking to different men. Whether breaking the bad news of a breakup to a husband, enjoying a new, vivid, impassioned and lusty relationship, or in the reminiscing chat of a love once shared with a man she hasn’t seen in years, she doesn’t look at the eye, or even the face, of the man she’s talking with. The men rarely look back at her too. This intended effect doesn’t make the scenes dreamy or quirkily fantastical, it makes what we’re watching clumsy – I could even go so far as to say that it makes every scene look like a pretentious 80s Calvin Klein perfume commercial, complete with forced poses and dramatic silences. Perhaps there was a time when this was beautiful. Perhaps, before Saturday Night Live started mocking this style of conceited European cinema, there was something original and poetic about it, but not so today. Today it makes me look at my watch and take two breaks to shake the tedium before being able to reach the credits of this work of study.

And you think I'm kidding about the eye thing... SERIOUSLY
And you think I'm kidding about the eye thing... SERIOUSLY

Next is the actual topic of the film itself: Complete Love. Love like an open, sensitive nerve that never wanes, that cannot be interrupted, not even for the time it takes to go to work or go to the bathroom. In short, Gertrud is a demanding, clingy attention-seeker who dumps her husband when he gets a chance at becoming Cabinet Minister, because clearly he cares about his job and his own life more than he does for his wife - at this particular point in time. Well, at least she’s no gold-digger. Gertrud’s solitary, one-dimensional quest of Epic Love is the only topic of conversation that takes place, and like good old Ebenezer, we’re transported from the ghost of lovers present, future and past to get the full story, which, thankfully had a twist entertaining enough to keep me from falling asleep a second time.

The overall cinematography offers no respite either, from the colour palate of white on white, with close-ups of blankly staring actors sitting on white couches to the constant long-shot effects that don’t plant us firmly in the scene as they should, but remind us of an exhausting passage of time that shows obvious signs of being a screenplay intended for the stage, which it was. As for the performances, it’s obvious there was a degree of forced ‘anti-natural’ going on on the director’s part, but again, the effect wasn’t romantic or profound, it was almost fourth-wall breaking, a reminder that we were in a room full of cameras, and actors, and gimmicky Mise en scène.

And turn and stare and pause and LINE!
And turn and stare and pause and LINE!

Performance: 4 Cinematography: 5 Script: 4 Plot: 5 Mood: 3

Overall Rating: 42% (Got Rude)
Aftertaste:

Director Carl Theodor Dreyer, has now officially become a man whom I can call 'unwelcome' in my home. I didn't enjoy Vampyr, I found The Passion of Joan of Arc passably fine, and Gertrud sickeningly tedious. The only thing that sucks more is knowing that I have one final review to write for Dreyer's work, the 1955 Ordet. Imagine the joy I'll have now that I've read the header of an IMDb user review: "Demanding melodrama which may reward concentration." Sweet baby Jesus. 

A pinch of sugar to my grain of salt: the last film I reviewed was one I said did not belong on The List. Because of the acclaim and sheer historical force of Gertrud, I can reluctantly say that I'm glad to have seen it, speaking in a 'film history context' way. You just can't love 'em all.

| | | | | | |

Sincerely, Gertrud was a real pain to watch because it felt so outdated and slow that I had a hardpassing throught it. But Ordet is maybe one of the greatest films ever made. Day of Wrath is also excellent (my favorite Dreyer) it's another observation on sorcery and witches like Vampyr but more convincing. Ordet is slow paced like Gertrud but the story is much more interesting and the images are just plain perfection. I'm looking forward to read your thoughts on it! I still need to see his Michael though...


Christ in a chariot. I just watched this, and you and I interpreted it slightly differently. What you took as Gertrud's evident blindness I read as her being a chronic sleepwalker.

 Well, now I know what it would look like to create a film with a cast of mannequins. 


Hahahha! Man. Looking forward to reading your thoughts!

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