A Danish man of God, Absalon (Thorkild Roose), allows an unrepentant practitioner of the dark arts to be executed on the stake despite his having rescued his young wife Anne’s witchcraft-practicing mother from the same fate. The year is 1623; the film is Carl Dreyer’s Day of Wrath (1943) , which reveals by and by just how disturbed Absalon is over his refusal to save the now slain woman. There is, however, a kind of punishment that befalls him through the actions of his wife (Lisbeth Movin) and his son (Preben Lordorff Rye), for they embark on an adulterous affair.
In Day of Wrath, adapted from a play called Anne Pedersdotter, people commit sin because it means something to them; it means a lot. It shouldn’t, but it does. Dominant here is a not-my-soul-but-my-body stance: The witch-woman (superbly acted by Anna Svierkier) is uninterested in repenting and converting, but is terrified of a physical snuffing-out. Absalon’s wife Anne refuses to renounce physical love with Martin the son. . . The religious Absalon dies without being willing and, subsequently, able to produce a resolution for these matters. Everyone in the film is standing empty-handed before God.
Dreyer’s masterpiece is the silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc. Day of Wrath is a lesser work, but still a classic full of powerful meaning.
(In Danish with English subtitles)