{Of all lies, art is the least untrue - Flaubert}

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


As we all know that there is a thin line between a great excellent film and a masterpiece. The thin line is that is transcendence, to use a cliché. It’s the line where the images coerce themselves into one whole and go beyond. We feel free. A film that makes us feel free is itself utterly independent and fearless, of the people who want to kill it with the censorship of the so called profane, or to neglect and ridicule the so called trivial and also those who want to limit it to the worship of so-called good, moral and "useful".

Ordet is so fiercely austere and heart rending. Not a film has moved so much as this one in long time, both emotionally and intellectually. The impact of few films is so deep and elemental that writing about them becomes a clumsy clichéd exercise. This film does not particularly try to express the human condition and expand the human conscious, the prime theme of the film is faith, but it’s not the half-boiled, half hearted faith, but a mad magical love. Since here, even faith has true passion, the things which we might have thought to be slight and stupid, become both lifelike and magical. I, myself, have wondered the way people "use" faith, as one of the way, not "the" way, which defies the very notion of it in spirit. We all have seen, and we all have been, sometime or the other, fearful of faith, but still use it as and when required (As the film patriarch Morten Borgen puts it "But I prayed only because it was worth trying.").

Ordet is a story of Morten Borgen, owner of Borgen farm, and his family of three sons, Johannes, Mikkel and Anders, and Mikkel's wife Inger. They are all dealing with their faiths. The link between them is Inger, who keeps the house alive. The film starts with the scene where each of the family member go out to search for Johannes, who has again ran out from home, thinking he is Jesus. Johannes, who according to Mikkel has gone mad not because of love, but because of Soren Kierkegaard, enters the leaves the frame like the wavering faith of the characters. The way he speaks is prophetic and terrifying. The most terrifying of all is the scene where Johannes sees the beam of headlights of departing car and envisions the death. It is also very excellent use of lighting as a thematic element. Mikkel has lost his faith totally, but according to Inger, he has faith because he is good at heart. Morten, played wonderfully with a mix of old snobbishness and aged wisdom by Henrik Malberg, is also having problem with faith, especially because his prayers for Johannes are going unanswered. Anders is in trouble because he is in love with the daughter of the tailor, who has a different faith.

The main difference between Ordet and films of Bergman, especially Winter Light, with which is frequently compared is essentially the difference between the one still looking for any possibility of faith (faith in faith) and the one who has looked and found nothing, and how to come in terms with it. Actually, it quite unfair to compare the two, in spite of the common theme, because although they seem to be on same continuous line, but it requires a "leap of faith" or a "retract to reason" to jump between the two. Ordet is exemplary in its refusal to reason and rationality because it doesn’t look premeditated. One more film, Ordet is often compared to, is Breaking the Waves, primarily due to its final sequence, but to me Breaking the Waves tryst with faith is like an ironical kiss, but in Dreyer's Ordet, it is a full carnal affair. [Spoilers Ahead] In one of the most striking end scenes ever, as Inger wakes up and passionately kisses Mikkel, we can see the line of Inger's saliva that sticks out from Mikkel's cheek, gloriously celebrating the bodily resurrection along with the soul, and hence when Inger speaks “Life.. Life”, it’s a sensual feeling, not particularly a spiritual one. [Spoilers End]

Dreyer's film is as much about the nature of and our relation with faith, as it is about the limitations of rationality. The vision of Dreyer, as it comes of the film is neither of a cynical nor of a devout. The film, in the end does comfort, but that comfort owes the great burden, the burden of pure and unflinching faith.


km said...

Intriguing. Even if it doesn't sound like a summer popcorn film :)

Alok said...

Your comparisons with Winter Light and Breaking the Waves are spot-on. I felt the same. Unlike Winter Light it doesn't take as the absence of "God" as a given and unlike Breaking the Waves it is not ironic or cruel but sincere and compassionate in its attitude towards its characters and their problems with their faiths. This is also a great introduction and illustration of the ideas of Danish philosopher Kierkegaard.

nipun said...

Interesting, although i've seen just one of Dreyer's films, Day of Wrath set in early 17th century i became a thorough addict .... i dunno how he does it but somehow i felt a very multidimensional effect from a flat 2-D screen. I remember how i got so engrossed in it, i had to see the movie again to just see if the impact was real of just imagined, and then i watched it again... seems Ordet's in the same category - thnx for pointing out the movie, makes the selection easier :)

anurag said...

yes, km.. its a intriguing film... it is one of those films that really trust its viewers, its almost fearless in its faith :)

thanks alok, I will be seeing Day of Wrath today. I saw Gertrud the day before. Will post soon about them !

Thanks Nipun, Ordet is highly recommended. and good to know that you have seen Day of Wrath, I will see it today ...