At what point does a director’s vision stand in the way of a film’s message? Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1964 film Gertrud seemed to me to stand in the shadow of the director himself. Based on the play by Hjalmar Söderberg, it is said that Dreyer wanted to reverse the ideals of the playwright for the film. The performances in the film are wooden and, in some cases, just recitation of adapted dialogue, which belies the strengths of the film.
The film follows a middle-aged woman name Gertrud and her experiences of changing love as she falls in love with a young musician named Erland Janssen and chooses to leave her husband, Gustav Kanning. The plot itself is fairly common and unsurprising, which begs the question of why Gertrud is considered a masterpiece.
There are a few elements I have noticed with these films that may help to edge Gertrud toward high marks. The first and most obvious are the long takes throughout the picture. There truly is something to be said for a film whose central scene clocks in at just under ten minutes. While the performances may be sterile, there was still something that made it captivating. Dreyer’s intent with this film was to make the dialogue more important than the characters saying the words.
Also, like all of the other films surrounding Gertud, the lighting and atmosphere are perfect; everything has its place and everything is in its place. Aside from the actors, the film is quite pleasant to look at.
Several weeks have passed since I watched the film as I have been pondering its power, which may be the exact reason it is memorable. I have not been able to shake it. The central theme in the film is Gertrud’s independence from a sole male counterpart. The pianist, Erland, would stand to be her third primary love interest, almost hearkening back to A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens as we meet her past, present, and future. Only this time, the Scrooge realizes that she is a strong woman who doesn’t really need a man in her life for it to be full and happy.