Movie Information

In Brief: Danish filmmaker Carl Theodor Dreyer's last film is pretty much of a piece with his earlier work, which is to say it's glacially-paced, stripped down to what Dreyer felt were the essentials and will appeal to those with very specialized tastes. Nina Pens Rode stars as the title character — a middle-aged woman having a kind of midlife crisis as she copes with an ex-boyfriend, a current husband, a careless younger lover and a long-suffering admirer. That's pretty much it, and how you'll take to the film depends on how you take to Dreyer.
Genre: Drama
Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer
Starring: Nina Pens Rode, Bendt Rothe, Ebbe Rode, Baard Owe, Axel Strobye
Rated: NR

I know I am supposed to revere Carl Theodor Dreyer as one of the greatest of all filmmakers. I understand this. I understand his whole theory of stripping things down their essentials—or in other words, removing all unnecessary items until you no longer have a set, but rather the idea of a room. The problem is I don’t much care. I find his films—with the marginal exception of Vampyr (1932), which is screwy enough to compensate—suffocating, unpleasant and…well, mostly boring. I feel like the movies exist to essentially torture the viewer—for no very good reason except that Dreyer didn’t seem to think to much of mankind on the whole. I do not say they are bad. I say I don’t like them. There is a significant difference between the two ideas. Dreyer mostly strikes me as the filmmaker for folks who think Ingmar Bergman is too frivolous. Certainly, no one is likely to mistake Dreyer’s last film, Gertrud (1964), for frivolous—though one might almost apply that term to its title character.

Gertrud is an oddity from nearly every angle. It is set in some early 20th century era where things are still mostly lit with candles and oil lamps—yet scenes take place in rooms with what looks like Danish Modern furniture and large modern electric table lamps. (I’m sure there is some greater purpose to all this.) The story is all about Gertrud (Nina Pens Rode), a middle-aged opera singer going through some kind of mid-life crisis. She’s opted to leave her politician husband in order to take up with a rather crude young composer, but not only is her husband disinclined to lose her, there’s also an old flame on the scene who wants to rekindle the spark. And, for that matter, there’s some long-suffering admirer hanging around. People talk endlessly—usually without expression and staring into space as they mullygrub about their feelings. This is mostly done in long takes with the characters always carefully standing (or sitting) so that Gertrud’s face gets the keylight. I understand this is all very profound, but I kept thinking I was watching cut-rate Ibsen, and that Gertrud was a singularly unappealing and self-absorbed character who ought to just shut up and go away. In strictly cineaste terms, I am in the minority on this.

Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present Gertrud Friday, Jan. 24, at 8 p.m. at Phil Mechanic Studios, 109 Roberts St., River Arts District (upstairs in the Railroad Library).  Info: 273-3332,

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

2 thoughts on “Gertrud

  1. Chip Kaufmann

    Your choice of a frame grab is none too subtle but it is highly appropriate.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.