Remembering Carl Theodor Dreyer

A retrospective look at the highly esoteric cinematic world of a respected, yet little-known film personality is currently on at the Apollon Renault Filmcenter in Athens. Organized by the Thessaloniki Film Festival, the tribute to critically acclaimed Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer, which was initially held in Thessaloniki, includes all of the director’s long features (there are 13 of them – a 14th remained unfinished) as well as seven short films which were commissioned for educational purposes. It will run until Thursday, September 27. Born in 1889, the illegitimate son of a Swedish farmer and his housekeeper, Dreyer was raised in a Danish foster home before being adopted by a strict Lutheran family. The burden of his family circumstances stayed with him throughout his life and is heavily reflected in his work: Many of his characters are victimized by men or society; and they all feel the need to be different. Dreyer became involved in cinema in his early 30s, primarily as a journalist, then as a title-writer and later on as a scriptwriter. During his career, spanning the years from 1918 to 1964, Dreyer directed 14 feature films, most of them shot outside his native country, in Norway and Germany, for instance, where he found a larger public for his inward-looking, philosophical films. Never one to work with heavy sets and props, Dreyer’s main focus was on the human soul and he became masterful in portraying complex and powerful emotions through calm images. In one of his earlier films, for instance, the silent masterpiece La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc, (The Passion of Joan of Arc, 1927) he uses a series of dramatic close-ups to express the heroine’s doubts and her persecutors’ hypocrisy. After a powerful first cycle of films, however, the director seemed unable to find his rightful place in the film world. He was afflicted by health problems and in the next 23 years managed to complete three features including Vredens Dag (Days of Wrath, 1943), Ordet (The Word, 1954) and Gertrud (1964), while he was also commissioned to shoot documentaries and shorts. Accompanying the screenings in Athens is an exhibition of photographs depicting the director on location from the Danish Film Institute archives. Furthermore, the Thessaloniki Film Festival has published a special edition on Dreyer as part of its great 20th-century directors series. Edited by Babis Aktsoglou and Michel Demopoulos, the volume takes a theoretical as well as a critical approach, analyzing Dreyer’s work thoroughly, while unearthing various unknown facts about his personal life, which are published for the very first time. A tribute to Carl Theodor Dreyer at the Apollon Renault Filmcenter 2000, 19 Stadiou, tel 323.6811. For tonight’s films, see cinema listings below.

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