Gertrud ★★★★

Advanced studies for Dreyer—rigorous in ways one doesn't even know how to particularly articulate. Dreyer's choices of when to edit and when to pan or move the camera at first seem defiantly baffling, until it all starts to form a logic with the narrative. The film has both a simplicity (woman's idealized version of love will always fail her), and yet an intense complexity that it's hard to know where to begin. Paintings are key here—reflections of narrative, all mainly Renaissance "representational" art, save for that final one of the grotesque woman (her Dorian Gray?). Compositions have a intense stillness to them that registers almost beyond comprehension—Dan Sallitt pondered after the screening that only Dreyer would pull back the camera to end with not just the door, but the door and the table. Still an emotional gut punch once one has a handle on how to watch the film, especially that perfect two shot of Gabriel relaying the story of the party to Gertrud. But certainly a film that requires multiple viewings to really even begin to build an understanding of everything that's happening here.

I have a copy of James Schamus's dissertation, which dedicates an entire chapter to the painting of the Venus being torn apart by dogs, which has no implicit reference and yet demands one.* He writes, "The image she appears in is already, by virtue of its framing within the frame of the film, not simply a pregnant moment, but a multiplicity, an excess of moments itself: it cites a prior text to begin with; it breaks the flow of the narrative as the characters stop to ponder it; it images forth a dream; it provides a vanishing point for the characters' own gazes as they discuss and interpret it; it prefigures and mirrors the scene of Gertrud's collapse before it. The image pictorially describes its scene, but in doing so it makes that scene function in a dizzyingly large number of narratives, many of which are narratives, implicit or explicit, of the interpretation of the scene by the different characters."

*It turns out it does come from Boccaccio's Decameron (Eighth story of the fifth day for those who know the text), but one of Schamus's points is that it rips the image from its text.

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