This is the twelfth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2022-23", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 8th annual challenge, and my fourth time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", the second year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", and last year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22"). Week 12 is called "Spirituality Week":
This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film revolving around spirituality.
Carl Theodor Dreyer occupies a special place in my film heart. I have called his The Passion of Joan of Arc the greatest silent movie of all time, and have included it on such lists as "My 50 Favorite Movies" and, more recently, "My Sight and Sound 2022 List". Day of Wrath marks the fifth Dreyer movie I have seen, and I must admit, none of them come close to Joan of Arc. I once wrote, "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. 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, did much for me."
Day of Wrath is better than those others, the equal of his last movie, Gertrud. I'm glad to be able to say this. Day of Wrath bears some similarities to Joan of Arc ... it's set in the 1600s, and the setting feels authentic. Dreyer makes us believe we are in those times. The characters seem very distant from us, with our 21st-century perspective. He doesn't make the mistake of trying to force his characters into a modern conception of how people live. But where Joan of Arc, in Cocteau's words, seems like "an historical document from an era in which the cinema didn’t exist", Day of Wrath feels like a movie about the era rather than an uncanny reproduction.
While all of the characters are very much of their time and place, each reacts differently to their situation. There's a grandmother who is so pious she spends most of her time trying to find sinners, there's her son, a pastor who believes, who has faith, but fears he is sinning nonetheless, and there is a young woman, Anne, the pastor's wife, who feels trapped in the life until she meets a man (the pastor's son) with whom she falls in love. In the context of the times, a woman of sin is a witch, and eventually, the Anne is accused. We feel for her so much it hurts, and yes, our distance from that period means we feel the injustice towards a woman who just wants to live and love. But by the film's end, Anne is oddly triumphant ... odd, because she seems to claim the label of witch as her own, even as she rejects the notion of sin. Yes, she says, I am a witch, if to love is a sign of my witchery. She confesses, not to set herself straight with God, but to set herself straight with herself. Lisbeth Movin as Anne is brilliant. #266 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.