"What could I have said to raise you from the dead?": Stevens and Dreyer dancing in my mind.

As often happens with many films we explore on Lost in Criterion, Carl Theodor Dreyer's 1955 masterpiece Ordet (“The Word”) is sitting with me and simmering in my mind long after Pat and I finish our conversation. Ordet is about life, and in that, perhaps, about nothing at all. It raises a lot of questions about religion and spirituality and truth, and offers few answers beyond confusion and mystery. But in it's third act the conflicting views of Christian faith - agnosticism, fundamentalism, liberalism - coalesce around the death in childbirth of Inger, heartbreaking still even in its commonness. But that is not the end of Inger's tale, for Ordet is, in the end, a tale of renewal, rebirth, resurrection. Inger's literal resurrection coincides with the return to sanity of her brother-in-law Johannes, the catalyst of the miracle who after an existential crisis triggered by reading too much Kierkegaard had believed himself to be the living Jesus Christ. And in this miracle comes the renewal of faith for agnostics and misguided-Christians alike.

But then the action itself and if any conclusions are to be truly drawn from it - well, Dreyer leaves that a mystery - the incomprehensible mystery of God. A master filmmaker, throughout his work - The Passion of Joan of Arc, Days of Wrath, even in the decidedly non-religious Gertrud - Dreyer never gives definite answers to the big questions he’s raising.

There have been few artists as enigmatic as Dreyer, but Sufjan Stevens is up there. I’ve been spinning his latest release Carrie & Lowell as I digest Ordet and the works of Dreyer. Taking it’s name from Stevens’ late, estranged mother and her husband, this is an album of death, of loss, of questioning, and of renewal. Or it may be. “Every road leads to an end”, Stevens says in the opening track, and leads us on a dark path before declaring that there is “No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross”, no relief. But even that despair is not the end.

Like Peter and Morten in Ordet, Sufjan cries out to the “God of Elijah”. Elijah’s is a God of struggle, unlike the God of Jacob we are not wrestling against him. The God of Elijah is wrestling against the darkness of the world, against unbelief in the face of great power. This is a God of mystery and miracle. Peter and Morten give thanks to this God in response to the resurrection of Inger, and it is the first step in their own renewal. Sufjan cries out to this God in Drawn to the Blood “How?...How could this happen?” (And like the title character in Gertrud, he comforts himself in the fact that his “prayer has always been love.”) But through all this struggle, through the ebbs and flow of emotion and pain, Sufjan, like Dreyer, leaves us still wondering about what we’ve witnessed and what happens next. In the final lines of the album he begs that the subject of the song “Blue Bucket of Gold” either swear to love him or warn him away, because he needs one or the other for closure. Closure is elusive though, in real life and in great art.

The story we see is not the whole story, just snapshots and moments into the emotional pivots of hurting people, real or imagined. Dreyer believed that his movies presented reality because the mystical, properly understood, is real. And it’s real to Sufjan in the same way, even as it slips away.

Inger’s resurrection may be a high point, but it’s not the end of her story. Joan’s death may be finite, but the film doesn’t end there, it ends with a riot erupting around her burning body. The story doesn’t end yet, and there’s hope in that.

A documentary shot as and in homage to Carl Theodor Dreyer.

Torben Skjodt Jensen's 1995 documentary film Carl Th. Dreyer: My Metier is a beautiful tribute to a wonderful filmmaker. The words of Dreyer himself, and plenty of interviews with associates and clips from films, help flesh out the man we've spent the last few weeks engrossed with. It's mind opening, if a bit infuriating. Suffice it to say that sometimes when you here an artist talk about their own work it can come off as beautiful or pretentious. Pat and my opinions split on which this is in this week's Lost in Criterion.

I could live forever in this Dreyer boxset.

Carl Dreyer steps away from his more commonly tread ground and focuses on non-religious, though arguably still spiritual themes in his final film, Gertrud from 1964.

From The Passion of Joan of Arc forward Dreyer's films slowly bend to more still and lengthy shots, which we talked a bit about last week with Ordet. Gertrud is that stillness turned up to 11, or at least 9:56, the length of its longest shot. But still, like Joan, this is a study of faces and emotion.

It's a beautiful film, and it's this week's Lost in Criterion

Kierkegaard will drive anyone a little crazy.

Carl Th Dreyer's 1955 outing Ordet, as adaptation of a play by Kaj Munk, is hid only film that was both a critical and financial success, and it's accolades are well deserved. Full of exquisite long shots -- Dreyer is well on his way to believing that a film could be made in seven or eight scenes (we'll talk more about that next week) -- and challenging questions, but no real answers. While that could be a problem, in this case it's pretty dang intriguing in a good way.

Check out this week's Lost in Criterion.

Kicking of a stint of cinematic perfections on this week's Lost in Criterion.

We're in a Carl Theodore Dreyer boxset of his last three features. Well, not Two People, but Dreyer disowned that one. Starting off is Day of Wrath his 1943 adaptation of a 1909 play, itself based on true events in the 16th century. It's an interesting tale of witchcraft and religious fervor. Of course the Nazis thought it was about them.

It's slow, but meticulously so. And it's certainly beautiful.

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