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4.8 out of 5 stars
23

TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 6 July 2017
Johannes Borgen is touched, soft in the head. He’s devout, righteous, pious, serious, an ardent student of Scripture. But Christianity and Kierkegaard have pushed him over the edge. Now as Christ incarnate he’s emphatically delusional, the Saviour and Redeemer returned to us to rid the world of sin.

It’s hopeless, his family feel — father, brothers, sister-in-law. He exists in trance-like isolation, his parables and admonitions mumbled monologues. Others hear them, but he doesn’t know they hear, his mind broken and transcendent.

The film is largely an examination of faith — what it is and what it does. In equal measure faith aids and comforts, deludes and distorts. Johannes may be mad, but it’s a holy madness that brings him closer to God, to a sense of peace and purpose. Dreyer, the director, does not judge. He shows Johannes’ state of mind, inviting our own judgement if we wish to make it.

Johannes is about 25. Thin, gaunt and bearded, he looks monkish, the second son of a farmer in Jutland, Denmark’s northern hinterland, a treeless land of reeds and grasses, sand dunes and bogs, ice-age drumlins and moraines, rough weather and few people. The sky and sea dominate, the land an afterthought between them. Life here is hard and poor, the cottages spartan and sparse, the land ploughed for food, the church the main social sanctuary. People gather there to sing and pray, to listen to sermons and chat afterwards.

But there is trouble born of old disagreements and grievances. Schisms have developed, differences in religious interpretation regarding the good life. The family of Johannes (the Borgens) think one way, other families another. Both can’t be right, so one or the other must be wrong. This feud of the spirit splinters the community socially.

The younger brother of Johannes is Anders, a lad of about 18 or 19. His eye is on nubile Anne, a local girl of similar age. He wishes to marry her. His father (Morten Borgen) forbids it. Her father (Peter Skraedder) does too. Thus in the rugged Jutland north do this young couple become a kind of Capulet and Montague, love dividing the land.

Mikkel Borgen is married to Inger. He is Morten’s eldest son. The couple have two young daughters, and now Inger is heavily pregnant with a third baby, a hoped-for boy. Morten, a widower, worships the memory of his deceased wife. Mikkel, taking after his father, loves and worships his own spouse, Inger.

Based on a 1932 stage play by Danish playwright Kaj Munk, the drama centres on four principal themes: Johannes’ state of mind and behaviour, Inger’s health and pregnancy, Anders and Anne’s wish to marry, and the religious/philosophical differences between Morten and Peter, patriarchs of their respective families. These themes will dovetail toward the end of the film.

‘Ordet’ is Danish for ‘the word’, a special, immaculate word that sparks the film. Does it have powers of magic and miracle in it? Can it heal the community and bring its citizens closer together?

The period is the 1920s or ‘30s. Telephones ring and motorcars run. But these are early versions of such inventions. The telephones are hand cranked. The cars run along rough, rutted roads. Horses pull haywains in the fields. The raiment of the people is simple and sombre. They are chaste, pious persons, never doubting the existence of God, even when puzzled by his mysterious, inscrutable ways. No accommodating alternative exists, so they go on believing, which after all is a form of hope and consolation. They rely on Him for their survival.

The finest exchange in the film, in my view, comes when Morten visits Peter with an aim toward reconciling in order to support Anders and Anne in their love. This comes after Morten has changed his mind regarding their courtship, overcoming his stubborn pride for the sake of his son’s happiness (and Anne’s).

At the family home of Peter.

Peter:

“The Lord is the God of miracles. He can lead you from unbelief and error.”

Morten:

“You say that about my faith? Do you know the difference between my faith and yours? You believe Christianity is being mournful and torturing yourself. I believe Christianity means the enhancement of life. My faith makes me rejoice in life. Your faith merely makes you long for death. My faith is the warmth of life, your faith the chill of death.”

It’s hard not to appreciate Morten’s words. His faith is that of the humanist, one who refuses to renounce the world in favour of one unseen and unknown beyond. He believes as devoutly as Peter does, but not through denial of life, including its sorrows and heartaches. And it will be Morten’s steadfast faith that has a profound effect on Johannes.

“Ordet” is a tale of suffering and loss. But also one of redemption. It’s a parable of faith and survival. It’s also one of the greatest Danish films ever made, the second to last Carl Theodor Dreyer (1889-1968) would make. It premiered in 1955 to acclaim and awards. The cinematography — crisp and pure in chaste black & white — is patient and intimate. Scenes and faces are shown in inordinately long takes. The film unfolds as a series of still lives might, though of course the actors move. Dreyer’s background was in theatre and it shows, no gesture, movement or word wasted.

The cinematographer is Henning Bendtsen (1925-2011), who also filmed Dreyer’s “Gertrud” in 1964, the director’s last feature film, as well as Lars Von Trier’s “Zentropa” in 1991, both artistically beautiful films.

One critic said “Ordet” is difficult to enter, yet becomes difficult to leave once one settles into it. I agree. I also think the film does not end at 119 minutes, its official running time, its images lingering long afterwards, as do the characters and their voices. One cares for the survival and happiness of these people. Mikkel’s love for Inger, for instance, is precisely exquisite because it’s so tenderly underplayed. The couple are married now some years but he still sweetly calls her his lass, and you see in his eyes he means it. He loves her. She knows it too and laughs when he kisses her, just as she did in the beginning all those years ago as a teenaged girl.

Deeply moving, sensitive, yet never sentimental. If true, how possible? The best word is genius. A simple, yet complex tale told with tremendous depth of feeling.
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on 22 February 2017
This is a beautiful and very moving film, but deliberately almost an anti-movie, with its long scenes, intricate dialogue, use of theatre actors and a stage play. It requires great patience from an audience used to jump-cuts and pace, but the patience is amply rewarded. A memorable experience, even if it amounts to a long evening.
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on 24 May 2014
Really strange film one that I knew nothing about untill the purchse which I sought about randomly. This is a sensational cult film. The only other film that I have ever rated so Highly is ' Whatever Happened To Baby Jane' starring Betty Davis. I love Ordet because it is out of the norm. I wouldnt necessarily say it is a master piece,however i think it is mesmerising.
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on 3 May 2015
Very unusual film, but once one gets used to the characters it is a very deep and profound subject.
I will watch it again as there is a lot to understand.Iwould say if you like the unusual to watch again
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on 28 February 2016
a mystical tour de force
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on 28 January 2014
I love this film it's so touching and it has a strong moral- Always have some sort of faith. It's worth the watch.
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on 25 October 2014
Just amazing - one of the greatest films I have ever seen.
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on 21 December 2011
This is a film of such rare distinction and transcendence that I have - as with other truly great artistic experiences to limit my re-engagement with it for fear of the extraordinary becoming common-place. An odd statement one might think and probably groundless but the anxiety is there. I have shared the experience of watching it with some very special friends and silence is the end result - a silence which betokens awe and humility (and perhaps a questioning of ones own faith - or lack of). In truth, if the silly question were ever asked of me, 'if you could choose only one film to take to a desert island' then this would be it in much the same way (going off at a tangent) that Beethoven's Op.74 ('Harp') string quartet would be my musical choice.
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VINE VOICEon 26 March 2007
Ordet (The Word) is a Danish film directed in 1955 by Carl Theodore Dreyer. It was adapted from the 1925 play by Danish playwright and Lutheran pastor Kaj Munk. Ordet is set in a spiritually divided community and deals with faith and the belief in miracles. Dreyer is regarded as one the truly great directors of all time, with a conviction to his art, matched by very few other directors. `Ordet' was the only film he made in the 1950s, twelve years after `Day Of Wrath' (1943) in ten years before his final film `Gertrude' (1965). The lighting in Ordet is simply exquisite and the cinematography by Henning Bendtsen is remarkable. Henning would go on to shoot `Gertrude' also and later `Europa' (1991) for Lars Von Trier. Lars Von Trier is a huge fan of Dreyer, evidence of which can be seen in `Breaking The Waves' (1996) that featured similar themes. If you're serious about cinema then this is a film that needs to be seen. I can't recommend this more highly than to say that this is in my top 10 favourite films ever made up there with the work of Bergman, Antonioni, Ozu, Fellini, Bresson and Cocteau.
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on 24 January 2013
I find it one of the most challenging Danish dramas, and I am looking forward to seeing this film every Easter in the future
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