Having seen The Passion of Joan of Arc and Vampyr prior to this experience, my interest in Ordet was piqued when I was watching A Story of Film and saw Dreyer and this film feature heavily. What is extraordinary about Ordet is that for even a viewer with absolutely no religious beliefs, it presents the possibility that miracles can happen. The varying faiths, or lack of, present within these characters clash with one another, and it isn't until the conclusion where we see just how united a group of disparate people can become. I can't think of a film I have seen, perhaps with the exception of Ingmar Bergman's pair of Winter Light and Through a Glass Darkly, that deals with the power of spirituality and faith in such a profound way.
Minimalist set dressing and a sparse mise en scene, a feature very evident in what I still feel is Dreyer's masterpiece, Joan of Arc, accentuates the characters in the frame and keeps the image simple, uncluttered and reliant on the essentials. It will be their individual crises and misfortunes, and conflicts between the characters, that make up this story. Dialogue is also stripped bare.
There are not a lot of cuts in this two hour feature. Dreyer used lengthy takes and a slow moving camera, allowing the natural sequences, and the film, to feel like it plays out in real time. The lighting is extraordinary and Henning Bendtsen's gorgeous black and white photography gives the cottage a glowing, dream-like appearance and the surrounding dunes, and the road leading to the tailor's house a somewhat haunting/gothic look.
Though we find it hard to relate to the lives of these characters - simple farm folk - we understand their plights - Anders' love for a woman his father (and her father) will not permit him to marry, Morten's hurt pride when his son his rejected by a man who he views to have an inferior faith, Mikkel's absence of faith and how this affects his relationship with his father - and feel attached to these characters.
Ordet is a difficult film to discuss so I will leave this short and just suggest that everyone make the effort to see it. It is a technical marvel and a masterfully restrained and minimalist work, yet it's themes of love, opposing faiths and honour are so much bigger. A challenging film, certainly, but a wonderful one.