I have just come across this good short piece by Jonathan Rosenbaum on Carl Dreyer; it eloquently captures some of the mysterious potency of the Danish director’s films.
As Rosenbaum says:-
…most of his films haven’t dated, even though reactions to his works have fluctuated quite a bit over the years…. One might … argue that unlike most other film masters who started out in the silent era, Dreyer’s major works were not only cinematically ahead of their own times; without ever becoming quite contemporary, they’ve even remained slightly ahead of ours.
The more we see the films and the more we know about Dreyer, the works seem to become more ambiguous and somehow more relevant:-
Never trendy in terms of either style or theme, his films become only more mysteriously complex over time. And perhaps even more pertinent is what might be described as Dreyer’s spiritual freedom, according to which neither belief nor disbelief is allowed to dominate his narratives — though hatred for intolerance is a constant. Witchcraft in Day of Wrath and miracles in Ordet (1955) are simply there, like martyrdom in The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) and vampires in Vampyr (1932), waiting to be unpacked and interpreted in all their ambiguity.
Rosenbaum’s conjecture about what connects the films feels a little too neat, but interesting nonetheless:-
…virtually all Dreyer’s work can be viewed as an obsessive defense of his idealized real mother, whom he never knew, and a troubled attitude toward his guilt-tripping and unloving adopted mother, whom he hated so much that he refused to attend her funeral.