Thursday, June 29, 2017

FILMBAY 2000 Greatest Films of All-Time (1888-2016) by Year - 0198 - PARSON'S WIDOW, THE / PRASTANKAN (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1920, Sweden-Denmark, 80m, BW)



 

PARSON'S WIDOW, THE / PRASTANKAN 

(Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1920, Sweden-Denmark, 80m, BW)



Introduction


PARSON'S WIDOW, THE / PRASTANKAN (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1920, Sweden-Denmark, 80m, BW)


Cast: Olav Aukrust, Emil Helsengreen, Kurt Welin, Hildur Carlberg, Einar Rod, Greta Almroth, Mathilde Nielsen, Lorentz Thyholt
Director: Carl Dreyer, Carl Theodor Dreyer
Writer: Carl Dreyer
Rating: NR
Running Time: 80 min.


Synopsis

Seminary-school graduate Söfren (Einar Rod) can't believe his luck when he out-preaches the competition and receives his first appointment as the new parson of a church in a rural town -- until he hears that his contract will force him to marry the previous parson's elderly widow, Margarete (Hildur Carlberg). Söfren and his beloved fiancée, the clever and beautiful Mari (Greta Almroth), pose as brother and sister, struggling to hide their love as they wait for Margarete to die.








Review

Carl Theodor Dreyer creates a humorous, poignant, and compassionate domestic satire on aging, obsolescence, and the social status of women in The Parson's Widow. Using recurrent imagery, doppelgängers, and plot repetition, Dreyer affectionately illustrates the transience and unalterable cycle of life: the repeated shot of Söfren and Mari by the waterfall at the beginning and end of the film; Dame Margarete's perceived appearance as a young woman; the dilemma that Dame Margarete and her first husband (her true love) similarly faced as Söfren and Mari on the road to the parsonage. Inevitably, by presenting Söfren and Mari's comically misadventurous path towards reconciling the diametric forces of moral obligation and personal integrity, perseverance and humanity, social duty and emotional need, Dreyer reveals the immutable process of life and the innate human struggle for spiritual and secular equilibrium.

Dreyer intended Parson's Widow to be a comedy, but it certainly has its dramatic moments as well. Film critics have mused that it is indeed two films in one -- a light comedy on the surface but a drama at heart, especially when the widow (played by Hildur Carlberg) is on screen. Carlberg was in her eighties when Parson's Widow was made, and Dreyer realized early on that his lead actress was not well. "She worked very hard and we were uneasy about her health," Dreyer recalled. "One day she took me aside and said, 'Don't be alarmed. I promise you I'll not die until we have finished the shooting.'" Carlberg kept her promise, but unfortunately she didn't live long enough to see the finished film, a fact that makes her scenes in Parson's Widow all the more poignant.

Parson's Widow was filmed in Lillehammer, Norway at Maihaugen -- a recreated village that displays over 500 years of Norwegian history. The collection of homes and other buildings (now numbering over 180 structures) was assembled by a dentist named Anders Sandvig. He started the museum in 1887 to preserve part of the culture for future generations. Sandvig explained his vision of the open air museum this way: "I see Maihaugen fully completed as a collection of homes, where you might step inside to the people who once lived there, and learn their ways of life, their taste, their work." The buildings, which were located all over Norway, were disassembled, brought to Maihaugen and rebuilt in their original manner. And thanks to this detailed, preexisting location, Dreyer did not build a single set for Parson's Widow.


Additional Information


Carl Theodor Dryer (1889-1968) 

The illegitimate son of a maid and a factory-owner from Sweden, Dreyer was born and 
brought up in Copenhagen, where his adoptive family subjected him to a miserable and 
loveless childhood. To earn a living as soon as possible, he found work as theatre critic 
and air correspondent for a Danish newspaper. He also began to write film scripts, the 
first of which was made into a film in 1912. The following year he began an 
apprenticeship at Nordisk, for whom he worked in various capacities and wrote some 
twenty scripts. In 1919 he directed his first film. The Presidential), a 
melodrama with a rather clotted Griflflthian narrative structure which nevertheless showed 
a strong visual sense. This was followed by the striking Leaves from Satan's Book(Blade 
of Satan's bog), an episode film partly modeled on Intolerance, shot in 1919 but not 
released until 1921. The young Dreyer proved to be something of a perfectionist in 
matters of mise en scene and in the choice and direction of actors. This provoked a break 
with Nordisk and the director embarked on a independent career which led him to make 
his remaining silent films in five different countries. The Parson's Widow (Prdstdnkan, 
1920) was shot in Norway for Svensk Filmindustri. While owing a stylistic debt to 
Sjostrom and Stiller, it shows a marked preference for character analysis at the expense of 
narrative development. This impression is confirmed by Mikael, made in Germany in 
1924, the story of an emotional triangle linking a painter, his male model, and a Russian 
noblewoman who seduces the boy away from the master, depriving him of his inspiration. 
Although heavy with symbolist overtones (derived in large part from the original novel by 
Hermann Bang), Mikael represents Dreyer's first real attempt to analyze the inner life of 
characters in relation to their environment. 

Dreyer fell out with Erich Pommer, the producer of Mikael, and returned to Denmark 
where he made Master of the House {Du skal cere din hustru, 1925), a drama about a 
father whose egotistical and authoritarian behavior wreaks terror on his wife and 
children. Here the close-ups on faces take on a crucial role. 'The human face', Dreyer 
wrote, 'is a land one can never tire of exploring There is no greater experience in a studio 
than to witness the expression of a sensitive face under the mysterious power of 
inspiration.' This idea is the key to The Passion of Joan of Arc {La Passion de Jeanne 
d'Arc, 1928), in which the close-up reaches its apotheosis in the long sustained sequence 
of Joan's interrogation against a menacing architectural backdrop-all the more oppressive 
for seeming to lack precise spatial location. 

Dyeyer's last silent film, Joan of Arc was shot in France with massive technical and 
financial resources and in conditions of great creative freedom. It was instantly acclaimed 
by the critics as a masterpiece. But it was a commercial disaster, and for the next forty 
years Dreyer was only able to direct five more feature films. Vampyr ( 1932) fared even 
worse at the box office. Using only non-professional actors, Vampyr is one of the most 
disturbing horror films ever made, with a hallucinatory and dreamlike visionary quality 
intensified by a misty and elusive photographic style. But it was badly received, and 
Dreyer found himself at the height of his powers with the reputation of being a tiresome 
perfectionist despot whose every project was a failure. 

Over the next ten years Dreyer worked on abortive projects in France, Britain, and 
Somalia, before returning to his former career as a journalist in Denmark. Finally, in 
1943, he was able to direct Day of Wrath Vredens dag), a powerful statement on faith, 
superstition and religious intolerance. Day of Wrath is stark and restrained, its style 
pushing towards abstraction, enhanced by high-contrast photography. Danish critics saw 
in the film a reference to Nazi persecution of the Jews, and the director was persuaded to 
escape to Sweden When the war was over, he returned to Copenhagen, scraping together 
enough money from running a cinema to be able to finance The Word(Ordet, 1955) the 
story of a feud between two families belonging to different religious sects, interlaced with 
a love story between members of the opposing families. Ort/e? takes even further the 
tendency towards simple and severe decors and mise en scene, intensified by the use of 
long, slow takes. Even more extreme is Gertrud ( 1964), a portrait of a woman who 
aspires to an ideal notion of love which she cannot find with her husband or either of her 
two lovers, leading her to renounce relational love in favor of asceticism and celibacy. 
While the restrained classicism of Ordet won it a Golden Lion at the Venice Festival in 
1955, the intransigence of Gertrud, with its static takes in which neither the camera not 
the actors seem to move at all for long periods, was found excessive by the majority of 
critics. A storm of abuse greeted what deserved to be seen as Dreyer's artistic testament, a 
work of distilled and solemn contemplation. Dreyer continues to be admired for his visual 
style, which, despite surface dissimilarities, is recognized as having a basic internal unity 
and consistency, but the thematic coherence of his work-around issues of the unequal 
struggle of women and the innocent against repression and social intolerance, the 
inescapability of fate and death, the power of evil in earthly life-is less widely 
appreciated. His last project was for a Life of Christ, in which he hoped to achieve a 
synthesis of all stylistic and thematic concerns. He died shortly after he had succeeded in 
raising the finance from the Danish government and Italian state television for this 
project, on which he had been working for twenty years. 


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