Master of the House (Carl Theodor Dreyer / Denmark, 1925):
(Du Skal ære din Hustru; Thou Shalt Honour Thy Wife)

A film of uncanny transformation -- walls that initially appear to belong in Joan of Arc's cell warm up by the stove, the intimidating patriarch, despotic in medium shot, turns plaintive in a close-up out of John Singer Sargent. The household, recreated in a studio down to gas and running water, is Carl Theodor Dreyer's territory, sketched with levels of domestic detail rivaled only in Vidor's The Crowd and Ozu's Equinox Flower. The wife (Astrid Holm) goes through an almanac of chores, pathologically optimistic about her interminable duties (faced with irreparable socks, she just makes them into mittens). The husband (Johannes Meyer) is a struggling businessman made cold and cruel by failure, traces of a potential ogre are found as he comes home to punish his son or scolds his wife for not putting enough butter on the toast. The old nanny (Mathilde Nielsen) takes it all in, sewing quietly in the corner until the boy triggers Holm's long-overdue meltdown by asking the meaning of the word "tyrant." She goes away to recuperate, Nana promptly moves in and lays down the law, threatening to spank Meyer just like she did when she was his childhood nurse; he finally learns to "see himself through the eyes of others," the path to salvation includes cleaning up after the pet birds, folding blankets with his daughter, and changing the baby's diapers. This is quotidian drabness beatified by growing emotion, shot by Meyer with a mounting understanding of the close-up toward the climactic image of Meyer standing proudly in his suit but with dusty pants from having moments earlier kneeled reverentially to his wife in the couch in a composition to be expanded in Gertrud. Ordet's pendulum-barometer is here heart-shaped and palpitating; McCarey transposed the plot into more than one Charley Chase short, De Sica saw it from a different angle in A Brief Vacation. With Karin Nellemose, Clara Schønfel, and Aage Hoffman. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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