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Dreyer Diary #3: “Ordet”

The Brooklyn Academy of Music is running a Carl Th. Dreyer retrospective, appropriately and monolithically titled DREYER, from March 13 - March 31. Here you will find my quick notes as I plunge in deep with the Dane. I hope we learn something as we march forward (and step back) with care.
Ordet (1955) is a lesson in patience. We see the world unfold in Dreyer's roving, enveloping inscription; in fact, we must. Everything—from its camera to its characters to its story to its frames to its language/s to its sets (and on)—moves in two directions, though all tracks lead to one point. It's a convergence. All our angles on the world cohere about a coffin stuffed with white in a no-space bled from grays into high contrast light. Everything leads here, we know from the start. Yet, for all the "signals" or "warnings" or whatever you will, the film is no waiting game. It is slow by any standard, but such is the weight of a life bound by ritual—and faith.
Ordet is rural, though emptiness a lie. This space teems. Borgen's farm houses three generations: widower Morten Borgen begat three sons, Mikkel, Johannes and Anders; Mikkel is married to Inger, pregnant for a third time after bearing two daughters, Maren and Lilleinger; Johannes thinks he's Jesus; Anders loves the tailor's daughter, Anne; there are pigs giving birth, too. All these people, all spaced laterally around this home, all points of light aimed at (and from) one another. Though memory and death factor into this home, it is ultimately a space of life, as Johannes and Inger's twinned actions and words testify (that is, make possible) from beginning to close. Their ardor makes faith less a religious act than an ordinary leap. We hear Kierkegaard with Johannes if we listen: we hear the possible's call, we see life upend into something new every day.
Ordet is straight-forward where Day of Wrath confounds. Ordet's system is hardly lukewarm, nor a braid, nor quite the austere picture some would have you believe. It is a gentle phenomenology. It allows for ambiguities, as its picture of faith does not demand monotheistic devotion (nor propose tidy mirrors) but offers our stream a branching; its world opens with every shot. Dreyer does not disclose a world, nor record events, but allow the appearance of life to happen in front of his camera, his eye (our camera, our eyes), though his orchestration is never hidden. Prescription yields, and doubt can be erased as headlights ghost a wall and a nose twitches awake. His cinema builds.

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