Wednesday 2 May 2018 4.28am
A Carl Theodor Dreyer Film
Again and again I don’t understand why certain films are picked out to stand as the Top Ten films in anyone’s life. Ordet (1955) was one, and Gertrud (1964) is even more obscure in its greatness. It’s not that I’m ever saying the films are anything less than beautifully made but there is often something which escapes about some of these films. But, of course, that is the reason for this journey of watching these highly regarded films.
Gertrud tells the story of a woman who has had three loves in her life. A relationship in the past where she loved a poet, Gabriel Lidman (Ebbe Rode), who went on to become famous. Another, where she married a lawyer, Gustav Kanning (Bendt Rothe), with a condition that he asked for, that she could walk away from the marriage, at any point if she chose to. A third, where she gave herself and all her love to a person, Erland Jansson (Baard Owe), who treats her love like it was the garbage everyone throws away everyday of their life.
In all three stories, she doesn’t make eye contact (most of the time) with these men unless there is something that, for her, is overwhelmingly emotional and uncontrollable.
Gertrud is a beautiful woman who is desired by many but who allows herself to give her love to just one person. She’s given men the opportunity to love her for who she is but they have always put work above love. Her last attempt at love, where she gives herself entirely, makes her more vulnerable than any of the others. She gives a composer/pianist, Jansson, her commitment to love him forever and she allows him to take her and love her in a very special moment in time, for her. That special moment becomes a conquest which he boasts about to others. Amongst the people to whom he boasts is a former lover, the poet. The poet, Gabriel, tells Gertrud what he has heard and how she has been characterized by this famous young composer.
Her only condition for allowing herself to be loved is that a man hold her importance to him above the importance of his own work. When she gives herself to Jansson she seems to forget about this requirement. She is now an aging beauty and he is a wild and brash young man who is interested in partying every opportunity he has and she can’t see past his talent and his beauty.
Three times Gertrud fails to find someone who will have her be everything they need. She wants the men to put her on a pedestal if the situation is put bluntly. All three men put their hope for a career – a successful working life – above their desire to completely love her, unconditionally. Gertrud wants to be more important to the man than the man’s profession or career.
What a woman wants – this woman, Gertrud – is to be more important to a man than his desire for anything else. She particularly doesn’t want to be a trophy who is on display for everyone to see. She wants real love and real engagement. All three men want her for her beauty and all three men can’t even put her on the same level as their work, position or status.
What Gertrud – the film – does that is most unusual is to set actors within the frame, having a conversation, with the characters not looking at each other. Gertrud often expresses her feelings but it is as if she is talking to herself. She wants the passion that comes with the early part of a new love to continue throughout the relationship. The men always put a job, career or position first.