One of those films that hits me in many layers, `Ordet' covers so many touchy yet pertinent subjects that it's truly difficult to review and or even discuss this film in one shot. So, I'm warning you now, this review may wind up feeling incomplete. The more I consider, meditate and talk about this film the more I appreciate it and the more I uncover. So, it's safe to say that tomorrow, next week and even next year I'll have something new to add to this review (but I refuse to amend my reviews, so you'll sadly never see those `new' additions).
A film that really challenges all I think I know and feel, `Ordet' is an experience that can be difficult to swallow for some.
A lot of European films in the 50's and 60's (think Ingmar Bergman) dealt with faith and the effect that religion had and still has on humanity in general. Dreyer's `Ordet' is no exception. The film centers around a family struggling with their religious individuality. The family's patriarch, Morten, finds that his personal convictions are tested when his youngest son falls in love with a girl belonging to a family steeped in religious beliefs that conflict with Morten's. Morten's eldest son, Mikkel, has all but lost faith in god and Morten's other son, Johannes, believes he is the Christ himself.
I have a certain connection with this film for the reason that my fleshly brother wound up developing the same mental illness as Johannes. I think that is why I felt this strong presence while watching this film, because I could see the religious abrasiveness weighing heavy on Johannes actions, as a way to brutally and directly rebel against his father. Growing up in a very religious family, I saw my brother (half-brother who apparently felt discarded by my father) use religious rebellion as a way to hurt my father, eventually compromising my father's spiritual standing by proclaiming to be the very entity my father held on such high esteem.
It's crushing to watch.
The film strips many layers away from religion in general, examining the idea of cross-contamination so-to-speak (as in, religious mixing in the marital arrangement) and even the feeling or need to convert those around us, even for apparently selfish reasons.
As the film unfolds there are a series of tragic events that uncover the inner person in each individual and bring together a certain sense of acceptance between these two families, and more importantly, between Morten and his sons. It is a shocking, preposterous yet completely affirming conclusion to this truly remarkable example of pristine (and heartfelt) filmmaking.
All performances here are stellar, but the one that really moved me the most was that of Henrick Malberg, who played Morten. His understanding of his character's convictions was just overwhelming (in a very good way). Preben Lerdorff Rye understood the crazy without drowning out the humanity within his actions, and the brilliant Birgitte Federspiel just marvels here as Inger, the doomed daughter-in-law who only wants to see her family come together in a unity that only her life can bring.
If you are looking for a film that is bound to challenge you in ways you will feel for days, weeks and years to come then this is a movie you NEED TO SEE.