The young wife of an aging priest falls in love with his son amidst the horror of a merciless witch hunt in 17th century Denmark.
Anne: “But how can we part? Think of everything that binds us together. Look at the tree over there.”
Martin: “It is bent by grief.”
Anne: “No, by desire.”
Martin: “No, by grief for us.”
Anne: “By the desire for its own image.”
“Anne, de jonge heks in Vredens dag, is getrouwd met een veel oudere man. De meest perverse en armste van alle predikanten, die zich krachtens zijn positie een jonge vrouw heeft genomen na de dood van zijn eerste. Uit zijn vorige huwelijk heeft hij een zoon die even oud is als zijn jonge vrouw, die hij nooit aangeraakt heeft. Wanneer de zoon opduikt, zwicht het systeem: de opeenvolgende generaties beginnen door elkaar te lopen. Anne is slechts een zwakke schakel in de keten. De natuur doorbreekt de culturele overlappingen. “Het verwarren van opeenvolgende generaties wordt in de Bijbel net als in alle traditionele wetten vervloekt...” Je voelt het gevaar langzaam opkomen: een onschuldig spelletje verstoppertje in het begin, om de oude dominee te verrassen, daarmee vangt het bedrog aan, de zondeval.”
“With Day of Wrath, Dreyer tackled head on for the first time his perennial preoccupation with witchcraft – or rather, with woman as witch – and came up, of course, with a verdict of not guilty to the black arts of superstition, but guilty to having power over the souls of other human beings. That ‘guilty’, however, is subject to reservation, since “everything that lives is holy,” and Anne's crime is simply that “life delights in life”.
“Set in 1623 – 33 years after the real Pedersdotter’s execution, but during a time when people still believed without any question or doubt in witches – and shifting the setting from Norway to Denmark, the film views that world from a contemporary perspective without for a moment dispelling our sense of what it must have felt like from the inside. Dreyer pulls off this difficult task through his singular style, part of which involves a sensual form of camera movement that he invented: the camera gliding on unseen tracks in one direction while uncannily panning in another direction. It’s difficult to imagine – a three-dimensional kind of transport that somehow combines coming and going in the same complex journey – but a hypnotic experience both to follow and to keep up with. The film’s first real taste of it comes fairly early, when we follow Anne in her sinuous progress towards the interrogation of Hertlofs Marte (Anna Svierjier) by her husband. The camera tracking with Anne around a pillar prompts our involvement in both her curiosity and her stealth in satisfying it while its simultaneous swiveling away from her establishes our detachment from both – at the same time that it suggests an anticipation of her future impulses and desire by literally racing past her.
Enhancing the strange sense of presence that results from this emotional complexity and ambiguity is Dreyer’s rare employment of direct sound rather than studio post-synching – giving scenes an almost carnal impact that becomes lost in smudgy and static-heavy prints. And, in keeping with the subsequent practice of Robert Bresson to replace images with sounds whenever he can, Dreyer uses sound to force us to imagine many of the details of the pursuit, torture, and extermination of an old woman in the opening sequences of the film rather than show us any of these things in any extended detail. There are many ways of interpreting the eerie story. We can believe that the characters, oppressed by sexual repression, conjure up fantasies about witches; or we can believe that witches really exist, and this story is showing us how one particular society, working through the church, produces them. Either way, Dreyer’s hatred for intolerance and institutions, the clergy in particular, is evident throughout, though all the characters can be said to have their own reasons, and simple hypocrisy is never an issue. The bottom line is that everyone in this society believes in witches – including the women suspected and accused of being witches, who regard many of their own passions as a form of sorcery and power. Herlofs Marte, the old woman accused of witchery in the opening sequence, who asks for Anne’s help in hiding her, never denies being a witch, and Anne never does either. And even though Dreyer’s focus throughout is on his characters’ psychology, there’s really nothing in the film that supports the proposition that either of these women is being falsely accused or misunderstood.”
- 1Frieda Grafe, ‘Carl Theodor Dreyer. Geistliche Herren und natürliche Damen’ in Süddeutsche Zeitung, 9-10 (februari 1974). [Vertaald door Sis Matthé, gepubliceerd op Sabzian, 29 januari 2020.]
- 2Tom Milne, The Cinema of Carl Dreyer, (New York: A. S. Barnes & Co., 1971) 126.
- 3Jonathan Rosenbaum, ‘Figuring out Day of Wrath’, jonathanrosenbaum.net.