THEY CAUGHT THE FERRY (1976 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, September 1976, Vol. 43, No. 512. — J.R.

De Naede Faergen (They Caught the Ferry)

Denmark, 1948
Director: Carl Th. Dreyer

Dist–Guild Sound & Vision. p.c–Ministeriernes Filmudvalg. sc–Carl Th. Dreyer. Derived from a work by Johannes V. Jensen. ph–Jørgen Roos. ed–Carl Th. Dreyer. sd–Jorgen Roos. l.p–(not credited). 408 ft. 11 mins. (16 mm.).

Behind the credits, accompanied by the ominous sound of three beats on a kettledrum, a ferry arrives at the Assens-Aarøsund landing. After some reverse-angle cuts between ferry and landing, a motorcyclist on board asks the captain about the next departure of the ferry on the other side of the island. ToId that it leaves in forty-five minutes but that he’ll never make it — the other ferry being seventy-five kilometres away — the man replies, “I must get it” and, with a female companion clinging to his waist, drives off the boat behind a line of other cyclists.

He quickly accelerates from 40 to 80 km. per hour, and his race down a country road is illustrated by moving shots which alternate his viewpoint (passing trees, close-ups of speedometer) with ‘objective’ angles (shots behind or ahead of his bike, close-ups of wheels). After stopping at a petrol station, where he urges the female attendant to hurry and she replies that he’lI have to drive fast to make the ferry. He races on, reaching 100 km. per hour and passing a lorry before his passenger says, “Halfway there”. He takes a wrong turn at a crossroads — where the camera halts and the shot momentarily remains ‘empty’ until he backtracks. While attempting to overtake a car with a skeleton painted on its bonnet — driven by a fateful figure in black with a bleached face, who laughs — he crashes into a tree in a subjective shot. The film cuts to a bell ringing: the gang-plank on the ferry is pulled back and, intercut twice with two birds diving in the empty sky — a curious forecast of the end of Bresson’s Lancelot du Lac -- the boat leaves; the camera pans away through a mist to two coffins in a rowboat being steered by the black-clad figure, a character resembling the scythe-carrier in Vampyr. De Naede Faergez (which translates literally as “They Reached the Ferry”) was a road safety film commissioned by the Danish government, shot by Dreyer five years after Day of Wrath and another six prior to Ordet, his next feature to be shown publicly.

It is somewhat regrettable that the version available here is unsubtitled, if only because the precise facts uttered in the minimal dialogue are functional parts of this adept Hitchcockian exercise. Devoted almost exclusively to the tension and exhilaration of speeding down a country road, it is one more demonstration that Dreyer’s art, principally praised for its spiritual qualities, in fact rests on its concrete realisation of material experience. Despite its effective cautionary ending, the general thrust of this short is to convey the excitement of speed along with its dangers — a significant object-lesson for spectators who equate the director with slowness.

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