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Dreyer Diary #6: “Gertrud”

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.
Gertrud (1964) shimmers and burns as it (as she) longs for life as dreamers often will. In fact, our lady in the middle says it outright: that life is a dream, or a series of dreams, drifting into one another. So goes the film, a cycle of deadpan non-events that stretch time past languor into a near total stasis (though filmed by an elegant and curious, to say sometimes mobile, camera). Gertrud is a careful film: it curls slightly circumspect though it yearns for the world and aims to sing in praise of love. Through Gertrud's myopic devotion to Love, we understand what lays beyond such a simple frame as herswe see the lack for what it is, we see the limits of the metaphysical. Dreyer is out in the open about it: though justified in her rejection of blind and hypocritical patriarchy (so crucial to Dreyer overall), Gertrud is arrogant; she remains deaf to the world beyond herself and her love (her loves) to the end. If we see Dreyer in Gertrudand why not, the film is hers as hisas much as in the poet, Lidman, and the composer, Erland, then we see how cinema (or, at the least, Dreyer's cinema) figures as the great metabolizer of all art forms, and how it, yes, transcends representation. But Gertrud is the opposite of Joan: this last masterpiece finds expression not in the play of close ups but in the emergence duration exposes, in how emulsion's grain does, over time, register temperaturesof emotion, of age, of significance, of love.
“Gertrud (1964) shimmers and burns as it (as she) longs for life as dreamers often will.” — Are you kidding?
I have just re-watched Gertrud on DVD, and remain convinced that (along with Mizoguchi’s Sansho Dayu) it is quite the most perfect film ever made. “Most perfect” doesn’t necessarily mean “best”, but it has long been in my personal “top ten”. Utterly exquisite.
I’m with you Alan! Greatest film ever?
Alan, I will need to revisit Gertrud before I can join you and D-Kaz. But, I must say, if ever a film was “perfect” (complete with scare quotes), this may be one such film.

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