The interior sets were built in an empty factory building belonging to the Renault automobile company, in Billancourt, France. The exteriors were shot on a field in Petit-Clamart, a suburb southeast of Paris. There, a continuous set the size of a large city square was constructed with a church, narrow little streets with crooked houses, a city wall with guard towers and drawbridge, surrounded by a moat. Everything was built from concrete and heavy lumber. According to first assistant director Ralph Holm, the sets had to be demolished with dynamite to clear the field after the shoot.
To get the special camera setups that distinguish the film’s visual style – including the frog’s eye perspective on the actors – Dreyer and his director of photography, Rudolf Mathé, dug trenches and holes to get the camera as low as possible.
The shoot began on 17 May 1927. The screenplay was largely shot in sequence.
Dreyer’s method of working was a bit of a trial for the actors. They showed up every day, got into costume – and waited. According to Martin Drouzy (1982), they were only called on once every ten days or even less frequently. Every scene was shot 5-10 times. The shoot lasted slightly over six months.
During the editing period, which stretched out over several months, more than 85,000 metres of raw footage was reduced to a final cut of approx. 2,400 metres – equal to a running time of 90 minutes. The figures are from an interview with Dreyer by Paul Salomonsen, but he is off by a bit. The Danish censor card notes the length as 2,210 metres, corresponding to a running time of approx. 80 minutes.
The film cost the staggering sum of 9 million francs. The big sets were costly, though to the producer’s chagrin they did not look like much in the final film.
By Lisbeth Richter Larsen | 03. June