Gertrud (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1964). We can't ignore what we bring to the table. My admiration for the films of Carl Theodor Dreyer grows from his masterpiece, The Passion of Joan of Arc, which I put at #15 on the 50 Favorite Films list I did some years back. I've looked forward to seeing his other movies, but I've mostly been disappointed. Neither Vampyr, his first movie after Joan of Arc and his first talkie, nor Ordet, his penultimate feature (Gertrud was the last) did much for me. So I didn't know what to expect as I settled in to Gertrud. I could imagine the style of the film, but whether I liked it or not was up for grabs.
It turns out I liked it quite a bit. Based on a play, a fact Dreyer makes little attempt to disguise, Gertrud is a talky examination of the place of love in life, centered on a woman in her mid-30s who realizes the love has gone out of her marriage. She makes attempts to find new love, or to rekindle old loves, but eventually she appreciates that the kind of love she seeks is not forthcoming from any man. The ending is not sad, but perhaps bittersweet. Dreyer films this with very long takes ... there are fewer than 90 shots in the two-hour movie. Some may find the style to be too off-putting, but I was sucked in, and it seemed appropriate to the material. While the conversations between the characters are quite intimate, their bodies do not reflect this. The characters are constantly looking off into space as they talk ... rarely does anyone look at the person to whom they are speaking. The words tell us of a desired intimacy ... the eyes tell us that intimacy may never happen. (In a coda, with Gertrud as a much older woman, the people are finally looking at each other as they talk.)
Nina Pens Rode, who plays Gertrud, has gotten much praise for her performance, but I confess I found her unconvincing. If you disagree, you will surely find Gertrud to be a classic, and many will share your view (it is #83 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time). She didn't ruin the movie for me ... in my own personal canon, this falls short of Joan of Arc (as most movies do) but I found it far better than the other Dreyers I have seen.
Enemy (Denis Villeneuve, 2013). I came to Enemy is a much different manner than I did for Gertrud. My wife selected it off of Netflix ... I'm not sure why, it has Jake Gyllenhaal, maybe she likes him, mostly she picks movie she can knit to. I knew nothing of the movie, so I settled in, clueless about what was to come (which is usually how I like it). It is safe to say I didn't like Enemy. It got decent reviews ... Peter Hartlaub did a fine job of describing it as "what might happen if someone let Terrence Malick make a 'Twilight Zone' episode, with a quick rewrite by David Cronenberg." The clue for me may lie in that description, since I am not a fan of Malick and I run hot and cold on Cronenberg. Gyllenhaal has a double role as two men who look identical, and he got praise for his work here, although I felt it was nowhere near as good as J.K. Simmons in Counterpart. Villeneuve creates an ominous atmosphere, but for me, the movie went nowhere, even as I could tell something was being attempted. I lost patience, and I wasn't convinced by what Hartlaub called "an occasional cameo from an apropos-of-nothing giant spider." I didn't roll my eyes very often, but I was always on the verge. It was only after the film ended and I looked it up to see what others thought that I found out who the director was. The first film of his I saw was Incendies, which I found quite powerful. Later came Prisoners, Sicario, and Arrival, all of which I liked, if not as much as I liked Incendies, still enough to make me want to keep my eye on Villeneuve. All of which makes me wonder what I might have made of Enemy if I knew in advance that it was by a director I liked. When I watched Gertrud, I was ready to compare it to an all-time classic on the one hand, and a couple of not-so-classics on the other. I wanted to give Dreyer a chance, though, and so I was pleasantly surprised when I liked the movie. If I had known I was about to see a movie by Villeneuve, I would have started off anticipating a good movie. But I didn't have that extra push that comes from looking forward to a film by a favored director, and for me, it fell far short even before I knew who directed it. Meanwhile, there are plenty of "what Enemy means" videos on YouTube if you are so inclined after watching it.