Stiff, formal drama of a woman desiring to be free of her marriage.
Gustav Kanning (Bendt Roth), a lawyer, reveals to his wife Gertrud (Nina Pens Rode) that he’s about to become a cabinet minister in the government. The couple appear stiff and formal at an emotional distance; she rarely looks at him as they converse.
He adds that he’s met someone – mispronouncing the name, corrected by Gertrud – who’s regarded as a musical genius. “Is he really a genius?” Gustav asks his wife, a professional singer: “You know music so well.” Also, he says that Gabriel Lidman, the famous poet, after being away for three years, has returned to his homeland; Gustav is to deliver a speech during a welcoming celebration the next day.
Gustav is aware that his wife while a free and independent woman, an artist in her own right, had been in a relationship with Gabriel. After mentioning his having invited Lidman over, Gertrud replies to Gustav’s inquiry of her reaction: “I’m just smiling, thinking about all the poor human beings who allowed themselves to love …”
As she’s gazing at herself in a mirror, a gift from Lidman, Gustav exclaims: “How beautiful you are, Gertrud.” After she declines his request of a kiss, he complains of her keeping her bedroom door locked at night for the past month; he suspects a lover. Following Gustav’s mother’s brief visit for her allowance, and having praised Gertrud for being a good wife to her son, Gertrud tells Gustav: “I no longer want to be your wife.”
Desiring to be free again – reminding him of their agreement when he offered her the ring of matrimony that if either asked to be released from vows “the other must step aside” – she says: “So much has changed. We’ve changed.”
When Gustav replies with “I love you, Gertrud,” she reproaches him: “Love – such a big word. There’s so much you love. You love power and honor, you love yourself, your intellectual life, your books, your Havana cigars, and I am sure you loved me at times.” She continues by saying she feels exiled from his thoughts and emotions, being little more than atmosphere: “how little I mean to you” absorbed in your work.
She finishes: “The man I’m with must be completely mine.” An ironic title of “Love Is All” might have been more apropos for director/writer Carl Theodore Dreyer’s drama, based on Hjalmar Söderberg’s play in which “A woman’s love and a man’s work are mortal enemies.”
Instead of going to a performance of Fidelio at the opera as she’d told Gustav, Gertrud (“in the clutches of love” which she herself doesn’t understand) meets Erland Jansson (Baard Owe), the aforementioned genius composer, for an assignation in the park with a nude female statue nearby before going to his apartment.
Recalling their first acquaintance in a flashback as he tells her of his being tired from having been at a party late into the night and insisting he prefers to do as he pleases, she announces she’s free – “From now on, I’m completely yours” – before relating a dream: “I was running naked through the streets, dogs chased me. And when they caught me, I awoke.”
After asking, “Do you dare?,” Erland questions: “Who are you?” Gertrud replies: “I am many things.” In the bedroom undressing as Erland plays at her request his own nocturne composition on the piano – Gustav, sick with the thought of his treasure leaving him, seeks Gertrud in their box at the opera – she finally feels liberated.
Feted as a hero for being the poet of erotic love, Gabriel Lidman (Ebbe Rode), just turned 50, speaks to an appreciative audience of the importance of having good thoughts in an uncompromising search for pure truth. During Gustav’s tribute to Lidman, Gertrud departs from the dull celebration with a headache.
Seated in front of a large painting, which she recognizes as a depiction of her dream, Gertrud is visited by her friend Axel Nygen (Axel Strøbye), a psychiatrist, who gives her pills obtained in Paris. When he tells her he’s writing a book on free will, Gertrud, recalling his view that “will is choice,” says her father believed the exact opposite that fate decides all. Axel urges her to join him in Paris.
Finished speaking, Gustav comes to Gertrud, requesting one last night together, after which she may “ruin your life, if that’s what you wish.” While Gustav’s called away by the chancellor, Gabriel sits down beside her, complaining of feeling old: “Gertrud, why did you leave me?”
He tells her of having attended a party of mixed company, including courtesans, at which Jansson – “I don’t like him” – had been present, bragging about his lovers and latest conquest. Accepting a request to sing before the chancellor, Gertrud begins a song with Erland accompanying her on piano; she collapses in a faint.
The following day back in the park, Gertrud proposes to Erland their going away, assuring him she has enough money for the adventure: “When you no longer love me, you can leave me.” “I can’t go with you,” he answers: “I’m not free.”
After explaining his circumstances with another woman, Erland cruelly tells Gertrud: “No, I don’t love you. If I did, I’d leave with you and think of nothing else. I have a dream of a certain woman, but it’s not you. She’d be innocent and pure. She’d obey me and belong to me. You’re too proud.”
Back in her home, Lidman visits with the Kannings. When Gustav excuses himself to attend to some business, Gabriel, reminding her of their pleasure and happiness together, pleads with Gertrud: “Come away with me.” She recalls another memory in a flashback.
Wanting warmth, she says that greatness leaves her cold. Decades later Axel comes to see Gertrud, delivering a copy of his book.
Gertrud is available at UW’s Coe Library.
Patrick is a regular contributor to Laramie Movie Scope. See many more reviews of his at: http://www.lariat.org/AtTheMovies/old/others.html