Day of Wrath
Screening on Film
With Thorkild Roose, Lisbeth Movin, Sigrid Neiiendam.
Denmark, 1943, 35mm, black & white, 110 min.
Danish with English subtitles.
Print source: HFA
It is not things in reality that the director should be interested in but the spirit in or behind things. Realism in itself is not art. – Carl Theodor Dreyer
Day of Wrath is the first in the trilogy of extraordinary films about women martyred by rigid patriarchy that marked the final chapter of Carl Dreyer’s legendary career. Although set during the 17th century, the film’s story of a young woman uneasily married to a widowed older parson and shadowed by suspicions of witchcraft has been read by many as a stark allegory of life during the Nazi occupation of Denmark that was at its darkest moment at the time of the film’s 1943 release. An early master of the silent cinema, Dreyer continued to craft stories in the sound era more through image than dialogue, through an inimitable and almost—but not exactly—minimal style defined as much by his careful limitation of characters and settings as the close, even fastidious, attention he gave to period details. In Day of Wrath, Dreyer thus uses seemingly quotidian scenes and unremarked moments—the closing of a cabinet, a sideways glance, the sound of a windstorm—to capture and render starkly legible the complex web of guilt and incrimination between the young wife, her elderly husband, his hard-hearted mother and his young son, suddenly returned and immediately attracted to his father’s bride. Like Ordet after, and recalling The Passion of Joan of Arc before, Dreyer’s late masterpiece seeks to capture not only the look and feeling of a specific time and place, but also its spiritual dimensions—here a search for redemption in a troubled and fallen world that resonated with Europe during the Second World War and continues to offer stark and moving lessons for attentive viewers to this very day. – Haden Guest