Every ten years since 1952, the world-renowned film magazine Sight & Sound has polled a wide international selection of film critics and directors on what they consider to be the ten greatest works of cinema ever made, and then compiled the results. The top fifty movies in the 2012 critics’ list, unveiled August 1, include twenty-five Criterion titles. In this series, we highlight those classic films.
From The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) to the still provocative Gertrud (1964), the work of Danish master of cinematic austerity Carl Theodor Dreyer challenges his viewers, raising questions about the eternal battle between the spirit and the flesh and refusing to provide any easy answers. And the style in which he made them—a clear-eyed, stark realism mixed with a profound spirituality—was an indelible influence on many other directors, Ingmar Bergman, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Lars von Trier among them. Dreyer’s brilliant and devastating 1955 film Ordet (The Word) offers sublime evidence of this remarkable aesthetic. Shot mostly inside the house of a farming family—a widower and his grown children—going through all sorts of crises of faith, Ordet is both simple in form and complex in philosophy; its fabric weaves together the ordinary and the miraculous. One of the film’s most fascinating characters is the family’s second son, Johannes, who has been driven insane by reading Kierkegaard and believes himself to be Jesus Christ. In one of our favorite shots in any movie, Dreyer and cinematographer Henning Bendtsen’s subtly expressive camera revolves around Johannes and his niece in a complex, nearly three-minute pan that makes it seem like the room itself is spinning.