Two from the Vault

Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Day of Wrath (Vredens Dag) (1943), from a screenplay by Dreyer, Paul Knudsen and Mogens Scot-Hansen, is being shown in a new 35mm print from New Digital Restoration in a special one-week run at IFC Center from Aug. 29 to Sept. 4. The film was shot in Nazi-occupied Denmark in the midst of World War II, and Dreyer fled Denmark shortly after the film was released. Hence, Day of Wrath was subsequently analyzed in some quarters as Dreyer’s allegory on the oppressive German occupation of Denmark. Be that as it may, it remains today a fierce attack on 17th-century religious intolerance and witch-hunting.

Thorkild Roos plays an elderly parson who sends an old woman to be burned at the stake for witchcraft. With her last breath, she curses him to a speedy death. Lisbeth Movin plays the parson’s beautiful young wife, who is herself the daughter of a woman suspected of witchcraft. When the wife starts an affair with her young stepson, the parson is driven to the death predicted by the old woman. The wife’s triumph is short-lived, however, when the parson’s mother denounces her in public as a witch. In short, however bleak, Day of Wrath is a masterpiece. See it.

Francois Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player (Tirez sur le Pianiste) (1960), from a screenplay by Marcel Moissy and Truffaut, based on the novel Down There, by David Goodis, crowns Film Forum’s remarkable Festival of French Film Noir and Thriller classics with a one-week run from Sept. 5 through Sept. 11. This, my favorite Truffaut effort, which I book every year in my International Film History Class, was nonetheless in its own time his Parisian flop between such runaway hits as The Four Hundred Blows (Les Quatre Cents Coups) (1959) and Jules and Jim (Jules et Jim) (1961).

Still, with cinematography by Raoul Coutard, music by Georges Delerue, and a cast consisting of Charles Aznavour, Marie Dubois, Nicole Berger, Albert Rémy, Claude Ransard, Daniel Boulanger, Michèle Mercier and Richard Kanayan, Shoot the Piano Player has risen steadily in critical esteem over the years until now it is universally considered a masterpiece of the film noir genre. It is not to be missed.

asarris@observer.com

Two from the Vault