(Day of Wrath)
Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer
Production: Palladium Copenhagen-Tage Nielson; black and white, 35mm; running time: 92 minutes, some sources state 98 minutes; length: about 2675 meters, some sources state 2790 meters. Released 13 November 1943, Copenhagen.
Screenplay: Carl Theodor Dreyer, Mogens Skot-Hansen, and Poul Knudsen, from the play Anne Pedersdotter by Hans Wiers-Jenssen; photography: Karl Andersson; editors: Edith Schlüssel and Anne Marie Petersen; sound: Erik Rasmussen; art director: Erik Aaes; music: Poul Schierbeck; costume designers: K. Sandt Jensen and Olga Thomsen, from designs by Lis Fribert; historical consultant: Kaj Uldall.
Cast: Thorkild Roose (Absalon); Lisbeth Movin (Anne, his wife); Sigrid Neiiendam (Merete, his mother); Preben Lerdorff Rye (Martin, his son); Anne Svierkier (Herlof's Marte); Olaf Ussing (Laurentius); Albert Høeber (The Bishop).
Dreyer, Carl Theodor, Mogens Skot-Hansen, and Poul Knudsen, Vredens Dag, in Five Films of Carl Theodor Dreyer, Copenhagen, 1964; as Day of Wrath, in Four Screenplays, London, 1970.
Neergaard, Ebbe, Carl Theodor Dreyer: A Film Director's Work, London, 1950.
Trolle, Børge, The Art of Carl Dreyer: An Analysis, Copenhagen, 1955.
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* * *
Eleven years passed between Carl Th. Dreyer's first sound film, Vampyr, and his second, Vredens dag, his first Danish film in 18 years. Dreyer saw Anne Pedersdotter, the Norwegian play by Hans Wiers-Jenssen on which the film was based, in Copenhagen in 1909, and had always wanted to film this story of a young woman burned as a witch. However, he altered the original drama in various ways.
The film takes place in a pastor's house in the country in 1623. The 21-year-old Anne, the second wife of the elderly vicar, is suffocating in the stern atmosphere of the house and suffering from the tyranny of her mother-in-law. When the pastor's young son returns, Anne falls in love with him, finally setting free her suppressed feelings. But society strikes back. Anne, whose mother was accused of being a witch, begins to fear that she too is a witch after the pastor dies. Typical of a Dreyer film, Vredens dag is also about the struggle between good and evil. Anne is not only a victim of a hostile and intolerant society, she must also endure the struggle within herself.
Vredens dag is an erotic drama about a love triangle played against a background of superstition and Christian mercilessness. In the characters Dreyer has mixed the individual with the universal, showing the strong impact of society on the formation of the individual. Whether the reactions of the main characters are based on individual, personal and egotistical motives or are the results of ideas and prejudices of the time is deliberately difficult to ascertain.
In this way, Vredens dag is an historical film, trying to capture the spirit of the past. But it is also obvious now what was not clear at the time of the film's release; the film was also commenting on another dark period of Danish history—the German occupation, the time in which Vredens dag was produced. In addition, the film can also be considered a timeless drama about a human being fighting for her right to self-realization.
The film is remarkable for its intense, but quiet acting and its austere visual style, which grew out of the theme. The slow camera movements, the long travelling shots, the close-ups and medium close-ups, and the beautiful compositions, inspired by 17th-century paintings, serve as a means for Dreyer to recreate the slow pulse of the time. The formal beauty, the contrasts between black and white, the use of horizontal and vertical camera movements, and particularly the rhythm caused the Danish critics to call it formalistic. The film was negatively received in 1943, although there were those who defended it. Similarly, when the film was shown in New York in 1948, it got very mixed reviews. In England, however, where it was shown in 1946, it was praised by the press. Since then, Vredens dag has grown in critical reputation and is now considered one of Dreyer's masterpieces.