April brings two opportunities to catch Dreyer films on the big screen in London – with The Passion of Joan of Arc at Queen Elizabeth Hall and Michael, an earlier and lesser known work by the Danish director, which is being shown at the BFI Southbank as part of the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. It’s a highly regarded film, although apparently its reception was not so friendly when it was released in the US, where critics objected to the gay storyline. More fool them. The film tells the story of a successful painter (played by Benjamin Christensen) and his unrequited love for his protegé Michael (Walter Slezak), who is, in turn, in love with a countess (Nora Gregor). Michael has a melodramatic plot, but is told sensitively, in Dreyer’s Kammerspiel style, and is beautifully designed and photographed. Casper Tybjerg writes on carlthdreyer.dk:
This sophisticated film unfolds in sumptuously decorated interiors filled with extravagant objets d’art. Dreyer had a big budget and UFA’s state-of-the-art studio facilities at his disposal as well as Karl Freund, a top director of photography in his day. Michael is a chamber play, depicting a few people and their mutual relationships. All significant things remain unspoken. Dreyer has the camera tell the story in glances, facial expressions and objects. For Dreyer, working with the actors was what mattered, guiding them to give nuanced and precise emotional performances to be captured in close-ups.
Anyone who has seen The Passion of Joan of Arc will know what Dreyer can do with a close-up, so this film looks like a must-see. It’s only a pity that it will be showing in one of the BFI’s smaller screens. For a full (very full) review of Michael, see this entry on jclarkmedia.com.
Michael screens at NFT3, BFI Southbank on 6 April at 6.10pm. There will be piano accompaniment. Tickets cost £9.50 or £6.75 for concessions, and less for BFI members. They will be available on 11 March for BFI members and from 18 March for everyone else. More details on the festival website here.