The Parson's Widow (Carl Dreyer)

Dreyer's second film and, believe it or not, a comedy, and a funny one too. Young theologian Sofren (Einar Rod) wants to marry Mari (Greta Almroth), but her father won't allow it until he has a decent position as a parson; he gets his chance at a small village, with one catch--he has to marry old Margarete (Hildur Carlberg) the former parson's widow. Sofren agrees, thinking Margarete hasn't many years left to her, but then she's already buried three of her husbands...

The film doesn't have too much of Dreyer's distinctive visual style; if anything, it has almost everything else Dreyer lacked (or shed) in his later films--a (relative) lightheartedness, a (fairly) swift stortelling pace, a (rather grotesque) sense of humor. The moment when Margarete asks guilelessly if Sofren already has a girlfriend and he stares at her, slack-jawed, is priceless; so is the moment when Sofren, beguiled by a glass of schnapps (possibly drugged) and a (mouthwatering) piece of herring, mistakens Margarete for an attractive young girl and proposes to her. Some moments of slapstick, as when Sofren is beaten up, or when he flirts at who he thinks is Mari but turns out to Margarete's old-maid servant are funny, but seem to suggest an unsettling flavor to Danish humor--often deadpan cruel, even violent.

A small complaint: this being his second film, you can hardly expect Dreyer to be the master of all aspects of filmmaking. I thought he relies too heavily on intertitles to tell his story, myself, at least this particular story--you don't see that fondness for text in his later Master of the House, least of all in his silent masterpiece, The Passion of Joan.

The final passages, where Margarete finds herself contemplating life in all its awful and wonderful complexity, are intensely moving. I might add tenderness and sweet acceptance as some of the qualities I'd never expect to find in a Dreyer film.


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