I suppose I'll get raked over the coals for this reaction, but I don't see greatness in Gertrud. In fact, it's the one Dreyer film that didn't level me. Thematically it's compelling, and the dialogue is great. But the curious melding of theatrical and modernist aesthetics left me cold, the overt artifice of the creation stripping away the emotional power of the performances.
A woman tires of her life as a politician's wife and embarks on an unsatisfactory affair with a young composer. Refusing to compromise in her search for true love, she leaves both men and walks out on her restrictive roles of wife and mistress. Dreyer's sublime valedictory film is composed of lengthy conversational scenes and dynamic camera work. Its pace is stately but stay with it and patience reaps many rewards...
Gertrud demands total presence from her lovers, and recognizes when it's not being given. Still, what defines her is her devotion to love (amor omniae est) - an ideal she's destined never to attain without a man. In the end, she becomes like the men who disappointed her, consumed by work instead of love. The only difference is that Gertrud tried to find pure love and never settled for less.
A maddening and transcendent avant-garde soap opera which couches valuable, heartfelt messages in theatrical stylization so unrelentingly dour and humorless that it sometimes risks laughter. Still, what an ending, and there is no shortage of formal invention, including the best lighting cinema has ever seen. You might say my biggest problem is that formalists insist on canonizing it. 4 out of 5 stars.
I know this is cinematic heresy, but this movie IS boring. Watching it was akin to being impaled with nails. Still there were moments of Dreyer's genius on display here, but this is no The Passion of Joan of Arc or Day of Wrath.
I can see why this didn't go down so well at the time--given that it seems to hail simultaneously from the 19th and 22nd centuries--but if you hang with it, one of the more profound movies about time, love and lack-of-love, the boundaries of the self, etc. will reveal itself. There are even a few laughs.