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.
Carl Theodor Dreyer’s last film, 1964’s Gertrud, is among cinema’s finest swan songs. The slow-burning character study of a wealthy married woman (the astonishing, quietly expressive Nina Pens Rode) who leaves her husband for a younger lover (Baard Owe) is a sobering tale about aging as well as a remarkable portrait of independence. Shot mostly, in patient long takes, as a series of dialogue scenes between different pairs of characters, Gertrud is a constrained masterpiece that refuses to conceal its stage origins (it was based on a play by Hjalmar Söderberg) while at the same time making full use of the cinematic medium. Every composition is exquisite, every rehearsed mannerism on the part of its actors both intensely moving and purposely artificial, as if to suggest that the very notion of romantic love is a construct. Watch this resplendently filmed lakeside scene with Rode and Owe, accomplished without a cut.
Dreyer was a grand old master of the cinema by the time of Gertrud’s release, revered by filmmakers and critics all over the world for such influential works as The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), Day of Wrath (1943), and Ordet (1955). So anticipation for a new Dreyer film was high, as you can see in this footage by cinematographer Jørgen Roos, taken at Gertrud’s world premiere in Paris. Guests included François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, and Anna Karina.