Friday, February 3, 2017

Near Dark

Two People (1945) is the bête noire of Carl Dreyer's monumental career. Made a year after Day of Wrath, it has been a work ignored or shunned by film historians and critics, Dreyer fans, and most intensely by the director himself. (Dreyer fought a long and costly legal battle to get his name off it. He lost.) So presumed has been the movie's worthlessness, it has been seen by very few; and has therefore been difficult to see until recently. The script was taken from Dreyer and changed in several major ways by the studio. His casting demands were ignored. And one scene Dreyer insisted must be cut was not eliminated. Yet Two People is a secret masterpiece, one which could have been made by no one else.

For 71 ardent minutes, we are in one apartment containing two people: a husband (Georg Rydeberg) and a wife (Wanda Rothgardt). The man has been accused of professional theft by a famous and powerful colleague, a colleague once involved with the man's wife and who winds up dead, at first an announced suicide then later discovered to be a murder victim. Dreyer sends us back and forth: Did the husband do it? Did the wife? Maybe neither.

Hence the story. What makes the work pure Dreyer is the sexual repression and sexual license flowing from the same source: a power-saturated system of evil surrounding the characters. In many ways, Two People is Carl Dreyer's attack on the morally-benumbed Danish middle class, the Professional class, thriving while immersed in compromise, intrigue, and death: it was made -- as was Day of Wrath -- under Nazi occupation. So the characters dwell in the land of sexual and professional betrayal, embraced by glowing white walls and swooning art music. Yet the walls are filled with shadow. And Dreyer's angles and cuts move deeper and deeper into darkness. And in the face of moral reckoning: escape through suicide.

After 70 years, Two People speaks to us strongly: identity and professional and sexual obsessions inside a Death State.