Gertrud (1964)

“I seek your lips and you give me your cheek. And the door to your room has been locked to me for more than a month. I used to be welcome there. I often lie awake, thinking of you. I’ve thought you might be in love with someone else and I’ve wondered who it could be.”

‘Gertrud’, directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer in 1964, is a Danish drama telling the story of an upper middle-class romantic triangle. Gertrud and Gustav Kanning, played by Nina Pens Rode and Bendt Rothe, are a married couple. Gustav is preoccupied by his political career, whilst Gertrud has fallen for another man. She tells him she has decided to leave him, but after she makes this decision, the man she is in love with reveals he is having a baby with another woman. Rather than going back to Gustav, however, Gertrud elects to leave alone and move to Paris. This is the second Dreyer movie I’ve seen after his transcendent silent masterpiece ‘The Passion of Joan of Arc’. This, his final movie, has the same feeling of emotional intensity, the performances are understated as in a Bresson movie, but the sets are solid, perfectly tying into the characters. Dreyer has such a sense of space that what could come across like a filmed play, feels like a strange and unique hybrid between the two forms. The director uses long, unbroken takes to keep you in the moment, to modern eyes this feels almost like parody. As with other art-house movies such as ‘Last Year at Marienbad’, this style has been parodied so many times that it is sometimes difficult to separate the art from the pastiche, but here Dreyer manages to transcend it. The final film it reminded me of, and one that I’m convinced was influenced by ‘Gertrud’, was Chantal Akerman’s ‘Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles’, a film with the same interior feeling, the same sense of domesticity and suffocating suburban life and the same understated performances.

Would I recommend it? It’s a work of repressed, clinical genius. Watch in a double bill with ‘Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles’.

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