SOME SPOILERY-ISH-NESS AHEAD.
My jaw was on the floor last night. I finally saw Gertrud, Dreyer’s 1964 swan song that arrived 11 years after Ordet. I’ve now seen five Dreyer movies and hopefully it’s not too early to say that he’s become one of my favourite filmmakers of all time. I already loved the other four of his movies that I’ve seen and would probably still rank Ordet at the top, but Gertrud left me reeling. Just doing an image search for my new siggie was an emotional experience as I looked over the indelible imagery of this profoundly poignant picture. I’m in awe of this one. It’s such a strikingly sad depiction of love and loneliness, communicated with some of the most astonishing two-person compositions I’ve ever seen.
The shot in my siggie is so eerily, achingly expressive. The movie is mostly a series of lengthy conversations, often between just two people who spend each scene doing everything but look at each other. It’s a simple, though incredibly effective way to define the loneliness of lost love, one-sided love, withered love. The characters are almost always conversing, but it’s like their emotional separation has become a physical one, too. The shot in my siggie takes on unique meaning then because it literally separates the characters by making them exist in different physical realities. In that shot, Gabriel Lidman is in front of the camera, while Gertrud is actually behind it, completely contained within the mirror.
That separation is interesting as it is, but it’s even more fascinating because of how it plays with the notion of looking at each other. The actual image in my siggie shows them looking away from their actual selves, instead conversing between man and mirror. But the majority of that shot actually has Lidman facing Gertrud, which should be a sign of connection, but instead remains eerily lonely because the image of Gertrud in the mirror that we see suggests that in the context of the shot, they’re once again not facing each other. You can see that beyond the ornate mirror and the candles, there’s nothing else in the shot. It’s a pretty plain wall for the most part, so we’re once again drawn to these characters that dominate the image, which only makes the sad separation that much more uncomfortable and disquieting.
I found the entire experience of watching Gertrud to be strangely hypnotic. Dreyer’s great achievement is that the movie is a series of alienating conversations and yet the movie isn’t actually alienating itself. It pulls us into these relationships and lets us be crushed by the weight of their longing. I found the epilogue to be a surprising and engaging way to conclude the movie. We see Gertrud so many years later, learn that she did indeed go to Paris and had many an adventure with Axel Nygren, but we’re not privy to much more information than that. The big final conversation unfolds mainly in a tight shot with the two actors facing each other, so there’s some suggestion that they’ve forged a connection that will stand the test of time, that there’s happiness and genuine love between them. But of course, we’re left with only pieces of the past to try to put the puzzle together. A powerfully mysterious conclusion to an immensely impressive and movingly meticulous film.