Michael

Inside the great hall of Claude Zoret's home, from Michael.
(Carl Th. Dreyer, DE, 1924)

Michael, adapted from a novel of the same name by the Danish writer Herman Bang, is the story of a famous artist, called The Master, and his love for a young man, Michael, who is his model and protégé. The Master gets a commission to paint a portrait of the Countess Zamikow, but he can’t quite capture the expression in her eyes. Michael, however, can. He has fallen in love with her. Time and again Michael abuses The Master’s trust in him, and The Master keeps forgiving him. Tortured by loneliness and Michael’s selfishness, The Master creates a final, magnificent painting before he dies, uttering the words, "Now I can die in peace, for I have seen a great love." Michael is unable to free himself from the Countess’s embrace long enough to visit The Master on his deathbed.

This sophisticated film unfolds in sumptuously decorated interiors filled with extravagant objets d’art. Dreyer had a big budget and UFA’s state-of-the-art studio facilities at his disposal as well as Karl Freund, a top director of photography in his day. Michael is a chamber play, depicting a few people and their mutual relationships. All significant things remain unspoken. Dreyer has the camera tell the story in glances, facial expressions and objects. For Dreyer, working with the actors was what mattered, guiding them to give nuanced and precise emotional performances to be captured in close-ups.

The film was well received in both Denmark and Germany, where Dreyer’s fellow Danish director Benjamin Christensen, playing The Master, was singled out for special praise. Michael was not shown in France, however, and commercially this costly, prestigious production was probably not a hit. Although the homoerotic nature of the relationship between The Master and Michael is merely hinted at – Dreyer perfectly capturing the tone of Bang’s novel – it was enough for the film to be sharply denunciated in the US. Still, Michael appears to have been Dreyer’s favourite among the films he made before The Passion of Joan of Arc.

CASPER TYBJERG


Production company Decla-Bioscop
Distributor  Dansk-Svensk Film
Censorship classification  Allowed for all
Release date and place 17.11.1924 / Palads
First screening in Berlin 26.9.1924 in Ufa-Theater Kurfürstendamm
Based on  The novel "Mikaël" (1904), by Herman Bang.

Directed by

Carl Th. Dreyer  Director 

Screenplay

Carl Th. Dreyer  Screenwriter 

Produced by

Erich Pommer  Producer 

Cinematography by

Karl Freund  Director of Photography

Production design

Hugo Häring  Art Direction

Cast

Benjamin Christensen Claude Zoret, artist
Walter Slezak  Mikaël
Nora Gregor Princess Zamikow
Alexander Murski  Mr. Adelsskjold
Grete Mosheim Mrs. Adelsskjold
Robert Garrison Schwitt 
Didier Aslan Duke de Monthieu 
Karl Freund Art dealer Leblanc
Wilhelmine Sandrock Widow
Eugène de Klotz Baron
Max Auzinger  
Mady Christians 

Director 
Carl Th. Dreyer

Release 
1924

Country 
Germany

Other titles 
Michael (DE - original title)
Mikaël (DK)
Heart's Desire (GB)
Chained (US)

Category 
Feature

Length/Running time 
1966 metresr

Technical data 
35 mm - 1,33:1 - b/w - mute