Gertrud (1964): Last, Masterful Film of Carl Theordor Dreyer (The Passion of Joan of Arc)

Many critics consider “Gertrud,” Carl Theordor Dreyer’s last film, to be the jewel of his crown. However, Dreyer has made so many good films (“The Passion of Joan of Arc,” “Vampire,” “Day of Wrath,” “Ordet”) that the issue may be irrelevant.

A quiet, transcendental film, “Gertrud” offers a deep and thoughtful meditation on one woman’s strong will to be happy and her refusal to compromise—at a price.
At the center of this luminous film is a middle-aged woman, Gertrud, splendidly played by Nina Pens Rode. Gertrud leaves her unfulfilling marriage and embarks on a search for the “ideal” love. But neither a passionate affair with a younger man nor the return of an old romance can provide the life she’s seeking.
Each of the three men in her life offers some gratification, but ultimately proves to be unsatisfying.   Gertrud loves her husband, but feels he is selfishly and excessively devoted to his career.

 

Gertrud has an affair with a young musician, but her hopes for romance are dashed when she learns he has been bragging about their liaison.
A poet from her past–their relationship having ended long ago because he felt that she hindered his creativity–reenters her life. But she admits to her platonic friend Axel that she is depressed because she falls in love only with men who cannot give her the full attention she desires.
In the finale, an aged Gertrud reads him a love poem she wrote when she was 16: “Look at me, am I beautiful? No, but I have loved.”

 

Dreyer is known for his innovative visual style, and here he uses long takes and elaborately detailed mise-en-scene to depict Nina Pens Rode’s portrayal of the proud and courageous Gertrud.
Composed of only 89 shots, “Gertrud is as filled with long shots (in duration and distance) as Dreyer’s silent masterpiece “The Passion of Joan of Arc” is with close-ups.
A visionary director, Dreyer viewed the film as an experiment, calling it “a portrait of time from the beginning of the century.”  Like most of his films, “Gertrud shows his fascination with psychology and the complexities of both conscious, subconscious, and unconscious mind.
 
Born in Copenhagen in 1889, Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer died in 1968, three years after his last film, “Gertrud.” In the 1950s, he directed several shorts but only one feature, “Ordet” (aka “The Word”), in 1955. Dreyer’s film output is not huge, but it consists of half a dozen masterpieces.
End note:
I dedicate this review to the great American film critic, Andrew Sarris, who was the first to introduce me to Dreyer’s work.
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