The Parson’s Widow (1920)

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  • directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer
  • starring Einar Rod, Hildar Carlburg, Greta Almroth
  • A young man is elected by a small village to be its parson and as part of his duties is required to marry the widow of the previous parson.

I’m not yet overly familiar with Carl Theodor Dreyer’s style as I’ve only seen one of his films, the much-praised Vampyr. After reading about his career and monumental works however, I was guilty of anticipating a film, though it was only his second, that was in line with his overall legacy. Something hard to access with rich visuals, near-tangible atmosphere, and depth. There were some skilled touches in The Parson’s Widow, mainly the long and portrait-like shots that detailed characters’ faces and emotions, but I was surprised that the strength of the film for the most part–and I loved it–lies mainly in its story and characters.

More than anything else Vampyr was an impactful experience because of Dreyer’s technique. What I’ve read on The Passion of Joan of Arc speaks similarly to a much higher level of praise for Dreyer’s and Renée Jeanne Falconetti’s craft, especially since everyone already knows of that tale’s narrative strength. So for that reason to witness from Dreyer understated and naturalistic direction and a consuming story about generational divide, love, and spirituality—a story treated with ample lightness and humor no less—was unexpected. This was a couple of ball gowns shy of a 1930’s screwball comedy basically.

In order to wed his love Mari, Sofren must endure a hard-fought political and religious campaign to become the village’s Parson. Sofren wins the election but thereby must instead marry Margarete Pedersdotter, a woman something like 40 years his senior who in her lifetime has had to marry three new Parson’s dating back to her first husband, the love she still carries in her heart. Margarete, played by Hildar Carlburg, was the complex, punch-packing character at the heart of the film.

According to Sofren and Mari, two children by comparison, Margarete was intimidating, closed off, and possibly even a witch. We are supplied a much richer background to her though, giving us a more complete picture of an elderly woman who’s in reality quite warm despite being heartbroken by those she’s lost throughout her life. The film’s universe was much more rounded out by having these two characters misunderstand each other in such a way and it was a timeless take on the wide gap between the old and experienced and the young and ignorant.

So begins a series of humorous attempts by Sofren to either steal away for alone time with his true love or even go so far as to try and murder Margarete so he and Mari could achieve their long-intended existence in love and religious power. This culminated in him injuring Mari instead of his intended target. The scenes with laid-up Mari were when Margarete’s dichotomous persona became one and the couple, like us, grew to admire her for her tender, caring touch and matronly behavior. When she learns what had up until then been the secret that she was the one keeping them apart, the woman steeped in tradition and heavily burdened with being past her prime does what’s necessary to keep the cycle of love in the parsonship going.

The lead performances were perfectly done. Einar Rod was the epitome of young brat, which was all the more compelling set against the backdrop of the spiritually elevated position he undertakes. But really the film belonged to Hildar Carlburg as the old lady who you want to heed yet hug and treat as your grandmother. With his intense and deliberate focus on the face of the woman, Dreyer all but created a monument of the elderly woman with which to empathize.

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About classixquest
all the things I should have seen

2 Responses to The Parson’s Widow (1920)

  1. Pingback: Leaves from Satan’s Book (1921) | classixquest

  2. Pingback: Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922) | classixquest

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