The President

(Carl Th. Dreyer, DK, 1919)

The President is set in an unspecified European country in the late 19th century. In the film’s prologue, Karl Victor von Sendlingen has to promise his dying father not to marry beneath his station. A flashback reveals that the father was forced into an unhappy marriage with a girl from a lower social class when he got her pregnant. Thirty years later, Karl Victor is a presiding judge ("president") in a small town. He is sentencing to death a young woman, Victorine, who has killed her own child born in secret, when he realises the young woman is his own daughter. A second flashback shows how his vow to his father made him break off with the young girl he loved because she was a commoner. She later died giving birth to their daughter. After much soul-searching, Karl Victor frees his daughter from her cell and together they flee the country. A few years later, when Victorine is happily married, death catches up with Karl Victor.

Dreyer’s impressive debut film shows his enormous ambition in its intricate flashback narrative structure and its refined images, in which Dreyer was deliberately striving to imitate such painters as Whistler and Hammershøi. Dreyer personally designed the interior sets. Moreover, he toured Swedish and Norwegian theatres to find the right actors. Most remarkable about the film is the psychological complexity with which the protagonist is portrayed. Very few films before 1920 demonstrate anything remotely like it.

The President premiered in Sweden in February 1919, but rather surprisingly a full year passed before Nordisk Film released the film in Denmark. Nordisk seems to have had a policy of holding back certain finished films to avoid saturating the market, though it is unclear whether that is sufficient explanation. The President was not zealously promoted, nor did the critics appear to have paid it much attention. Still, Nordisk’s management was satisfied enough with Dreyer’s initial effort to let him try his hand at a far bigger production.


Production company   Nordisk Films Kompagni 
Distributor  Fotorama 
Censorship classification  Allowed for all
Release date and place  09.02.1920 / Panoptikon 
First screening in Sweden 3.2.1919. 
Based on  The novel "Der President" by Karl Emil Franzos. 


Directed by

Carl Th. Dreyer  Director 


Carl Th. Dreyer  Screenwriter

Cinematography by 

Hans Vaagø  Director of Photography 

 Production Design 

Carl Th. Dreyer  Art Direction 


Halvard Hoff  Karl Victor v. Sendlingen, the President
Elith Pio Franz Victor v. Sendlingen, von Sendlingen's father
Carl Meyer  v. Sendlingen's grandfather 
Jacoba Jessen  Maika 
Hallander Hellemann  Franz, the President's servant
Fanny Petersen  Brigitta, the President's maid
Olga Raphael-Linden  Victorine Lippert, the President's daughter
Betty Kirkeby  Hermine Lippert, Victorine's mother 
Axel Madsen  Vicepresident
Werner Richard Christensen  Georg Berger, counsel for the defence 
Peter Nielsen  Public prosecutor
Christian Engelstoft  Journalist 
Jon Iversen  Weiden, Victorine's fiancé
Carl Lauritzen  The last pastor 

Carl Th. Dreyer

Release year 


Other titles 
Præsidenten (DK - original title)
Der President (DE)
Le Président (FR)
Presidenten (SE)
Vaterherz (AT)


Length/Running time
1673 metres/89 min. (DVD)

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


Dreyer's script in Danish.

Watch the film



The programme in Danish.