Reception / Leaves from Satan's Book

Norwegian premiere: 15 November 1920.

Danish premiere: 24 January 1921.

Leaves from Satan’s Book was distributed to Norway, Sweden, Germany, Austria, Hungary, the United Kingdom, the United States, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Poland, Belgium, Finland, Argentina, the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) and Latvia.

The film received some advance notice and was reviewed in every Copenhagen newspaper and the major provincial papers as well. A lot of column space was devoted to the actors’ performances and Edgard Høyer’s screenplay, which was panned. The film as such was praised for being a step in the right direction for Danish cinema, and Dreyer’s accomplishment was singled out. For example, the film critic for Berlingske Tidende wrote, "Last night was again Mr Carl Th. Dreyer’s (…) a definite victory. (…) It is highly unusual to commend a Nordisk film. (…) A few details here and there can be criticised (…); but, as it stands, it is a very significant work, which hopefully will pull new works in its tow."
"Mr Ink." of Dagbladet – after an extended review, praising Dreyer’s stagecraft, notably his depictions of environments – concludes, "But Mr Dreyer has firstly and ultimately created a starting point worthy of imitation by virtue of a diligence, thoroughness and culture, which henceforth no film director will ever dare to deny Danish pictures."

On the other hand, there were heated reactions to the film from two widely different fronts: conservative Christians and the labour movement. The Kristelig Dagblad critic condemns the film, "We have but one word to describe this show. We call it revolting. It is revolving that people exist who would play such roles…." The review concludes with the following broadside, "We must therefore ask to be excused from this form of sacrilege." In line with these views, Landmandstidende criticises the film for its portrayal of Jesus and the apostles, "As a sleepwalker, a dreamer, Christ was portrayed, and his apostles were made out to be a flock of fatuous, inferior individuals." The Ekstrabladet critic "Mefisto" was more humorous and satirical in his comments: "the audience gasped when Jesus himself stepped onto the stage (…) The question is whether this is really in good taste. What if people had clapped at Jesus? Or, worse yet, if the theatre audience had booed him off the stage?"

The labour organs Solidaritet and Arbejdet reviewed Leaves from Satan’s Book under the respective headlines of "A Brazen Agitation Film" and "Danish Upper-Class Propaganda." Both papers note the film’s portrayal of workers and revolution: "Satanas, naturally, is on the side of the Reds, during both the French and the Finnish Revolutions, and in both periods the Reds are furnished with the foulest possible and criminal attributes, while the Whites conversely are represented in such a way that they inevitably compel sympathy from the viewer who is unable to reflect on the matters himself " (A.D. Henriksen, Arbejdet).

By Lisbeth Richter Larsen | 03 June 2010