The Parson's Widow (Carl Theodor Dreyer / Sweden-Denmark, 1920):
(Prästänkan; The Fourth Marriage of Dame Margaret)

Leaves from Satan's Book purged Carl Dreyer of all grandiosity, he here employs a modest canvas which expands as countless human details are scrupulously laid in. The first image (a waterfall from Sjöström, with a gentle pan to pick up the wandering couple) offers Dreyer's understanding of movement in stillness, and also his discovery of the cinematic shot as gag. The sweethearts (Einar Röd, Greta Almroth) arrive at the village but can't get married until he becomes a parson. The position is available, one candidate bores the congregation into slumber, another is pranked into delivering his sermon with a feather sticking out of his hair; Röd takes to the pulpit with a brisk account of Hades and inherits the previous preacher's post, and, per local tradition, his aged widow (Hildur Carlberg) as well. A combo of herring and schnapps clinches the engagement, the crone lays down the law the day after the wedding: "I'm master of the house!" Almroth moves in disguised as Röd's sister, triggering Dreyer's rich repertoire of pokerfaced jests -- the young man plays the flute for his maiden (a 45° camera turn reveals a burly servant, who douses him with water), then masquerades as a demon (which reappears in Nosferatu and Hour of the Wolf) and frightens the old oak until his slippers give him away. The stinger is that the would-be witch is actually a sensitive human being, reminded of her lost youth by the illicit lovers; the gradation from broad humor to grave compassion is immaculately graceful and, during Carlberg's final walk through her farm as she feels the Reaper approaching, tacitly devastating. The material would be reversed, deepened, and darkened in Day of Wrath, yet an optimistic Dreyer here envisions the sorceress's parting gift less as a curse than a blessing, the spiritual sagacity of age passed on to youth, the cross-shaped iris that embraces the matured couple. With Olav Aukrust, Kurt Welin, Mathilde Nielson, and Emil Helsen Green. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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