Friday, May 16, 2008

The Parson's Widow

The satisfactions of early Dreyer – say pre-Joan of Arc – are available to the viewer in a somewhat limited quantity. Those looking for embryonic signs of the director’s signature style, augmented by the occasionally spectacular sequence – Michael’s painting of the Princess, for example, or the climax of the Inquisition episode in Leaves from Satan’s Book – will find what they’re looking for; those expecting fully formed masterpieces or even any kind of consistently sustained brilliance, alas, will not. Still, if there’s one early work that satisfies most completely on its own terms, it’s probably the filmmaker’s 1920 feature The Parson’s Widow and that’s largely because, until a sudden late shift in the narrative, it’s played pretty much as comedy, an approach that seemed more amenable to the young Dreyer than the epic solemnity he would undertake in Leaves or the heavily educed melodrama of Michael, and allowed him to narrow (as well as deepen) his focus by shifting his attention to the smaller scale lifestyle of a tiny Norwegian village.

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