Day of Wrath (Dreyer, 1943)



“Day of Wrath, for pity take

My sins away from Satan’s grasp

And bear my soul to Heaven at last.”

Made in Denmark during World War Two, this film – set four centuries earlier – is heavy with the weight of German occupation, as women are tortured and cajoled into denouncing others as witches. But the ready identification of these stern, detached church authority figures with the Nazis and their collaborators, if understandable, is simplistic. For a modern audience shaped by decades of feminism and further erosion of the belief in authority or of supernatural evil, with tolerance the dogma of the day and torture one of the few remaining morally repugnant acts – and with six more decades of deplorable denunciations in Maoist China, Stasi East Germany and McCarthy’s “witch-hunting” America – the tendency to oversimplify is as strong or perhaps stronger.

Dreyer is made of sterner stuff than we. He is rigorously dedicated to making art, never propaganda, to exploring the complexities of humanity rather than trading in stereotypes. Whatever preconceptions we carry into the film about witch trials and puritanical Christianity (Lutheran, actually, in this instance), about the purity of love and romance in the face of repression, whatever we are prone to believe about innocence and guilt, our ready judgments are continually subverted as the film progresses. We begin... Read More

Only Lovers Left Alive (Jarmusch, 2013)

“For rhythm and harmony penetrate deeply into the mind and have a most powerful effect on it, and if education is good, bring balance and fairness, if it is bad, the reverse.” - Plato “It is part of the business of the critic to preserve tradition – where a good tradition exists. It is part of his business to see literature steadily and to see it whole; and this is eminently to see it not as consecrated by time, but to see it beyond time;... Read More

Ikiru (Akira Kurowawa, 1952)

“Doesn’t it make you furious when they walk all over you this way?” “No. I can’t afford to hate people. I haven’t got that kind of time.” Akira Kurosawa’s epic Samurai films are among the greatest movies ever made. But it is a quiet, intimate story about a very different sort of hero, a mid-level bureaucrat confronted with the futility of his own life, that may be the director’s masterpiece. Certainly it’s one of his... Read More

Best Films of 2014 So Far?

    Here is a mid-year report (drawing from D’Angelo’s definitive list). There is a lot yet on the horizon this year, but I really enjoyed the following films and could imagine them jostling for position on a year end list. I also note a few films that have me on the fence or worse. – Blue Ruin (Jeremy Saulnier) – This film drew me in through its sheer economy. Few revenge films deal with the practical difficulties... Read More

Pasolini and St. Paul

Mubi has posted an excerpt from a translation of an unfilmed Pasolini script recently published by Verso Books. (Which, of great note, has a preface from Badiou and an introduction by Ward Blanton of all people. Blanton does a lot of interesting interdisciplinary work on NT Studies and continental philosophy.) Verso says in their blurb for the book: This is a key addition to the growing debate around St Paul and to the proliferation of literature... Read More

Nothing Bad Can Happen (Gebbe, 2013)

    Katrin Gebbe’s first feature, Nothing Bad Can Happen, quite impressively made it all the way to Cannes in 2013. It is a hard enough film to watch that it met with mixed reception. From reviews I have scanned (so, consider this unscientific), most are repelled by the film because it does all kinds of awful things to its lead character. Which is true. But I haven’t seen many build a case that Gebbe doesn’t have chops.... Read More

A Few Things The 2014 Emmys Overlooked…

  The Emmy Awards are weird for a few reasons. We know that the nomination and voting process makes any Emmy honor kind of dubious. The award exacerbates the age-old craft vs. popularity issue in mainstream media. It has always been difficult to tell the difference between the comedy and drama categories, as really good TV can straddle both. And now with the proliferation of content strategies, including once totally outrageous ideas like producing... Read More

The Leftovers (Season 1, Ep. 1) Surprised by Meh

  “…hope is subversive, for it limits the grandiose pretension of the present, daring to announce that the present to which we have all made commitments is now called into question.” (W. Brueggemann) – The gist of the apocalypse of The Leftovers finds its origin in the pre-exilic prophets of Israel, whose images of judgment and restoration cycle in passages of time through the prophets that follow, speaking hope into the darkest... Read More

Rectify (Season 2, Ep. 2) The Evangelical Female in Her TV Habitat

  In the first season of Rectify, Daniel Holden was released from death row to a town with differing opinions regarding his innocence. One of the more unexpected responses to this conundrum was that of his devout sister-in-law, Tawney. We could quickly count appearances of the “bible study girl” in network television or date night cinema, which taken together may fit somewhere in the taxonomy of the manic pixie dream girl. This... Read More

Rectify as “Christian Art”

Daniel Holden has been on a Georgia death row for the rape and murder of his girlfriend for 19 years and has been released following new DNA evidence. Newly loose upon the world, he is distant, vague, as motivationally inscrutable as a Flannery O’Connor anti-hero. His fiercely loyal sister and parents are getting used to having him back around. At times, he feels like a new piece of furniture in the house. The rest of the town is apprehensive... Read More