Anne (Lisbeth Movin) is the young, restless wife of the High Inquisitor of a small town, Rev. Absalon. They live together with Absalon’s tyrannical and unpleasant mother, in a state of regularity and boredom. Then, two events shatter their normality: the arrival of Absalon’s son, Martin (Preben Leydorff), whose age is near to Anne’s and both start a hot love affair, and the execution of Herlofs Marte, an old lady accused of being a witch who had helped Absalon in the past. Soon everything slowly, but surely, goes to hell.
In his short filmography, this is one of Dreyer’s most impactful films. Like most of Dreyer’s films, they are, in a way, filmed plays, but are affected by the lighting and cinematography techniques, and it’s long takes that help build tension and an overwhelming sense of doom. And like most Dreyer’s films, the acting is what keeps it on it’s toes. Lisbeth Movin is very beautiful, and believable, in the role of Anne, playing a character who is vulnerable and in search of love, living in a world that she did not intend for herself but at the same time trying to find a way out of it (with the arrival of Martin). And Dreyer’s camera loves her too, making her out to look like a slut sometimes, but also as pure as the Virgin Mary (especially in the end’s scene), bringing to memory another Dreyer film, Passion Of Joan Of Arc. I also loved Thorkild Roose (Absalon) who in a typical Hollywood movie would have come off as a heartless and evil man, yet here he’s an older priest who feels genuine pity for his young bride, knowing that taking her in was against her will, and suffering from a religious conflict that rings very true, especially after what happened with Herlofs Marte. But it’s Sigrid Neiiendam, as Merete, Absalon’s mother, who steals the show. She is one of the most memorable grouchy mothers to ever be in cinema, right up there with the one from Cinderella and Anna Sebastian from Hitchcock’s Notorious. She never smiles and has an attitude of ice, only showing love toward her son and grandson. Still, this movie isn’t about good and evil, it’s about a repressing movement taking over the character’s individuality and desires, and she not only represents it, but also is a victim of it.
Of course, the repressive element in the lives of these characters is the church. For the longest time, this movie used to be in the top Horror movies of the IMDB, and although this is not a horror movie, it’s constructed very much like it was one. The torture and burning sequences aren’t very graphic but are very effective, and Herlofs Marte’s burning is very disturbing, as you can see her screaming face as she hits the fire. It’s done very realistically, with the most primitive effects imaginable. The Church’s force is so prevalent in this film, that it does seem kind of scary. The ending is very effective and profound, as Anne seems to accept her fate almost like a relief, and is glad to escape the evils that surround her. This is an excellent film and a real piece of art.