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Day of Wrath / Vredens Dag (1943)

CRUMBLIES… 2 crumblies

Holy crap. Old Jack here is a man of his word. I said that if Carl Theodor Dreyer pumped out another movie that touched on middle-aged woes and old aged viciousness then I’d give it a go. I now demand love, hugs and the tastiest chocolate in the land. For hidden in the cultural-but-you’ll-be-punished list on the BFI Player is Dreyer’s Danish classic – Day of Wrath.



This is a slow one. And not because of the length of scenes, script or editing. No. Dreyer has his characters wander through their scenes like actor-snails. They are slllllllloooooooowwwwwwwww. And their lives are humourless and miiiiiiiiiisssssssserrrrrrrabbbbbbbbbllllllllleeeeeeeeee. Really. Deep breath, this one’s gonna hurt.

So, black and white, Danish, the best part of twenty years on from the angsty joys of The Master of the House / Du skal ære din hustru (1925), here we have a tale of persecution of witches. Such fun.

We’re in 1623 and burning disagreeable women is all the rage. Herlofs Marte is sneaking about looking old and wild of hair. She gets arrested after hiding in a priest’s loft, then tortured in scenes no-one needs to see, and threatens said priest – Absalon Peressøn – with denouncing his young and rather scrummy second wife, Anne. Herlofs knew her mother to have been a witch and Absalon suffered her to live because he wanted Anne. In the end, and before Day of Wrath begins, fate not fire took Anne’s mother to the grave.

So far so unhappy. Back in Absalon’s home, his mum Meret is being a total bitch to her second daughter-in-law, Anne. Whilst rather scrummy, Anne isn’t the sharpest wand in the coven. For having heard that her own mother was a witch, she tries out a power…to make people come to her… which kind of works, because dull Martin, Absalon’s son from his first marriage, comes nose to nose with her in very slow moments of very slow lust.

Oh – being denounced as a witch is bad, did I say? They cut straight to the happy confessions dragged out of torture. Gloomy subtext there whilst Martin and Anne get smoochy and the inevitable happens, out in the tall grass by the lake…

Now, the external shots are either flatly or beautifully shot. We see reeds and love. Earlier, old Herlofs is tied to a sacrificial ladder, pushed into flames, and dies (post denouncement…) screaming. This is all quite nice, though filmed a bit like stuff the BBC produced twenty years later.

And it remains slowwwww. For what may or may not have been a tart commentary on the persecution of the Jews during WW2 (the director denied it apparently, but still skidded out of the country post-haste), it is pedestrian to say the least. Witches and potential evil have reached banging in the rushes but – oh, old Jack was bored. Even two packets of Jaffa cakes and a sweet tea didn’t help.

Things plod on as the affair comes to light, the old Absalon regrets taking a young wife, the malicious Merte is proved right for being so unpleasant to Anne, and Anne…almost perversely enjoying her witchy powers… bellows Absalon to a sad death. Really.  Stupid witch.

Okay. Day of Wrath is interesting but beyond plodding. Not quite the Crucible, and a proper tester of your patience, it is ultimately about the risks to an old man of taking a wife the same age as his son, the weirdness of totalitarian regimes (looking at you Catholicism), and the power of belief. For think yourself a holy man and you can kill. Think yourself a witch and you can drop the morals, sleep around, break faith and…also kill.

Hmm. The cast obey their director, who must have told them to glide around the sets like they were in ten pound boots. Father and son, Thorkild Roose and Preben Lerdorff Rye, are slow, dull planks drowning in piety and worry. They’re wildly outclassed by the angry old women: Sigrid Neiiendam as the harrumphing mum and Anna Svierkier as the ungrateful and spiteful Herlofs. The star is Lisbeth Movin as Anne – the woman who believes in her own witchiness, seduces a step-son and breaks the heart of a priest. Love is briefly discussed and dismissed, Dreyer perhaps asking the audience to accept the languorous ennui as a commentary on shared victimhood. Or because he had two hours to fill. Either way, Movin takes flat affect to new levels, dragging your eye throughout, whilst her Anne doesn’t achieve anything with men that just being spiteful and beautiful wouldn’t achieve. Her moment comes as Absalon’s mum turns on her…

Watch this film if you’re feeling worthy. Old Jack here was very glad, and not a little surprised, when it ended.

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