Germany | 90 min.
black & white
Carl Th. Dreyer, 1924
Danish master Carl Th. Dreyer (1889-1968) directed Michael (also known as Mikaël) in 1924 for Decla-Bioscop, the artistic wing of German production powerhouse Ufa. It was Dreyer’s sixth feature in five years and his second in Germany.
Based on Herman Bang’s 1902 novel of the same name, Dreyer’s film is a fascinating fin-de-siècle study of a “decadent” elderly artist (Benjamin Christensen) driven to despair by his relationship with his young protégé and former model, Michael (Walter Slezak). With suffocatingly sumptuous production design by renowned architect Hugo Häring (his only film work), this Kammerspiel, or “intimate theatre”, foreshadows Dreyer’s magnificent final film Gertrud by precisely forty years.
Michael was scripted by Dreyer with Fritz Lang’s wife Thea von Harbou (Metropolis, M, etc). It stars the director Benjamin Christensen (Häxan); Walter Slezak (Hitchcock’s Lifeboat); Nora Gregor (Renoir’s The Rules of the Game); Mady Christians (Ophüls’ Letter from an Unknown Woman); and Karl Freund (who shot Metropolis) in his only ever appearance as an actor. Freund lensed part of Michael too, but left to work on Murnau’s The Last Laugh, and Rudolph Maté (The Passion of Joan of Arc) took over.
Never before released on home video, this 80th anniversary DVD set is a timely opportunity to experience a film that was once described (by Dreyer biographers J. & D. D. Drum) as “having one of the strangest and saddest fates a film ever suffered”.
by Nick Wrigley, 2004