Sixty years separate the two films reviewed here -- and how much has changed. In 2003, it is becoming increasingly impossible to unplug oneself from the stupefying machine that is modern cinema and to find a film that is about real life. Films today are downloaded experiences that have the look and feel of computer games.
Sitting cheek by jowl with the malodorous popcorn junkies in my local Odeon watching The Matrix Reloaded, it was hard not to feel like one of the floating human vegetables that fed the machine in the first Matrix movie. And as I sat there, I found myself wanting to walk to the front of the cinema and yell some common sense at the audience, like Howard Beale in Network: "None of this is real! You're just pods on seats, enslaved by a digital tyranny that wants you in thrall to a new kind of cinema. This film you're here to see talks aboutfree will and choice, but that's just bullshit. Hollywood doesn't want you to have any choice, any more than it wants you to think for yourself. None of you is free! You're just part of the franchise. So I want you to get up,w alk out of this theatre, go to the box office window and shout: 'I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this crap anymore!"'
It wasn't always like this. Films used to mean something. Let me take you back 30 years to Jean-Luc Godard's Vivre sa vie (1962). Nana, aprostitute played by Anna Karma, goes to a cinema and is moved to tears as she watches La Passion defeann'e d'Arc (1932). This was not a case of a tart with a heart so much as Godard paying homage to one of the century's great film-makers, Carl Dreyer. Karma, real name Hanne Karin Bayer, was married to Godard and, like Dreyer, she was a Dane. Indeed, her mother worked as a costume designer for Dreyer, a director Godard much admired. In Le Petit Soldac (1960), Godard gives Karma's character the name Veronica Dreyer.
One of Dreyer's best films, Day of Wrath(1943), opens on 2 June at the NFT; but it is also available from the British Film Institute's video library, which you can buy from Amazon. Set in 17th-century Denmark, the film is a powerful tale of love and betrayal and of a community obsessed by the fear of witchcraft. Apriest tortures a confession out of an old woman accused of witchcraft; meanwhile, his young wife Anna, played by Lisbeth Movin, is …