Day of Wrath  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Day of Wrath (Vredens Dag) is a black and white film, made in 1943, by Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer. The film is an adaptation of Anne Pedersdötter (1909) by the Norwegian playwright Hans Wiers-Jenssen, based on an actual Norwegian case in the sixteenth century.


Day of Wrath was made during the period of the Nazi occupation of Denmark (1940-1945), thus the film's tale of individuals living in a repressive and paranoid society takes on added gravity.


Day of Wrath is set in a Danish village in 1625 where an old woman Herlof's Marte (Anna Svierkier) is accused of witchcraft. Anne Lisbeth Movin, a young woman, is newly married to the aged local pastor, Absalon Pedersson (Thorkild Roose), who is involved with the trials of witches, and they live in a house shared with his strict domineering mother Meret (Sigrid Neiiendam). Meret does not approve of Anne, much younger than her husband, and even younger than the son from his first marriage. Anne gives Herlof's Marte refuge, but Marte is soon discovered in the house, though she is presumed to have hidden herself there without assistance. Herlof's Marte knows that Anne's mother, already dead at the time of the events depicted, had been accused of witchcraft as well, and had been spared thanks to Absalon's intervention, who aimed at marrying young Anne. Anne is thus informed by Herlof's Marte of her mother's power over people's life and death, and become intrigued in the matter.

The son, Martin (Preben Lerdorff Rye) returns home from abroad and he and Anne are immediately attracted to one another; she does not love her husband and considers him not to love her. Anne, exercising the power supposedly inherited from her witch mother, calls on Martin, when he suddenly appears and they kiss. Under heavy torture Herlof's Marte confesses to witchcraft, defined among other evidence as wishing for the death of other people, but threatens to expose Anne if Absalon does not rescue her from a guilty verdict, begging him to save her like he saved Anne's mother. Marte though, after pleading with Absalon a second time, doesn't betray his secret and is burned at the stake with the villagers looking on. Absalon takes Marte's claims at face value, and is deeply troubled by them. Anne and Martin, clandestinely growing closer, are seen as having changed in recent days, fuelling Meret's suspicion of Anne's character. Anne is heard laughing in Martin's company by her husband, something which had not occurred in their time together. Absalon regrets that he took Anne's hand disregarding her feeling and true intentions, and tells her so, apologising for stealing her youth and happiness.

A violent storm erupts while Absalon is away visiting a dying young parishioner Laurentius (Olaf Ussing); he had been cursed by Herlof's Marte during her interrogation and foretold an imminent death. Meanwhile, Anne and Martin are discussing the future, and she is forced to admit wishing her husband dead, but only as an if rather than it actually happening. At that moment Absalon, on his way home, feels like the touching of death itself. On Absalon's return, Anne confesses her love for Martin to her husband and tells him she wishes him dead; he collapses and dies calling Martin's name. Anne screams. The following morning Martin is overcome by his own doubts, despite Anne claiming that she had nothing to do with his father's death which she sees a provvidential help from above to release her from her present misery and unhappy marriage. At Absalon's funeral, Anne is denounced by Meret, her mother-in-law, as a witch. Anne initially denies the charge, but, when Martin stands with his mother she is faced with the loss of his love and trust, and confesses on her husband's bier (coffin) that she murdered him and enchanted his son with the Devil's help. As the film ends her fate appears sealed.

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