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also known as Mikaël

Michael1924

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  • 3.8
Danish film master Carl Theodor Dreyer's MICHAEL is a mature and visually elegant period romance decades ahead of its time. Michael takes its place alongside Dreyer's better known masterpieces as an unusually sensitive and decorous work of art and is one of the earliest and most compassionate overtly gay-themed films in movie history. Collaborating with famed German cinematographers Karl Freund and Rudolph Maté, MICHAEL offers the first fully realized example of Dreyer's emotionally precise, visually extravagant style. Based upon Herman Bang's 1902 novel, Dreyer's MICHAEL refashions the classical Greek myth of Jupiter and Ganymede into a love triangle between an aging artist, Zoret, his protagonist Michael and Princess Zamikoff, an aristocratic femme fatale as entranced by Michael's youthful beauty as Zoret is. As Michael plunges from the dizzying heights of new love to the depths of theft and betrayal, Zoret experiences a spiritual rebirth from out of the ashes of rejection and despair. A film of exquisite artistry, MICHAEL is both elaborately theatrical and remarkably restrained. Dreyer elicits vivid and passionate performances from his adroit cast, including the screen's only acting appearance by cinematographer Freund. Co-written by Fritz Lang's wife and collaborator Thea von Harbou, this intimate and compelling film possesses a bold level of emotional detail and depicts the twilight of a male-male romance with unusual daring and subtlety.

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Member Reviews (4)

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top reviewer

A touching, well conceived dramatic presentation.

Michael (1924) is Carl Th, Dreyer's first mature romantic drama. It does not deliver on the level that he would reach even a year later with Master of the House or in 1928 with The Passion of Joan of Arc. There are a few things to latch onto stylistically that can be viewed as things to come. A few set pieces, a few shots, use of shadows reflected on the walls, but for the most part the set as the story itself is baroque, which Dreyer will quickly abandoned for stripped down austerity in the near future. The acting style was still highly theatrical and not what one thinks of when Dreyer comes to mind, and is probably one of the leading reasons that the characters never quite really get their emotional impact across. With everything baroque and everything keyed up it only serves to create a barrier between the story and performances and the audience. Yet, Michael is still very much ahead of its time with very obvious homosexual and bisexual undertones (that at times read more as overtones), tones which Dreyer ultimately backs off of by the end of the film. This subtext is by far the most intriguing element of the film. It is often described as a love triangle between an older famous painter, Claude (Benjamin Christensen of Haxan fame), his young muse Michael (Walter Slezak) and a Princess (Nora Gregor) just for good measure. Michael and the Princess elope and Claude foots the bill, mostly, either directly or indirectly. It is only in the last ten minutes of the film, when the viewer Is fully informed of what Claude has gone through to ensure a good life for Michael which is having his art dealer secretly buy all of the paintings he gives Michael as presents that Michael in turn sells. Claude, dying, leaves everything to Michael. On his deathbed he request to see Michael one last time, yet Michael will not leave Princess Zamikoff's side (which we see in an odd cut-away to their apartment where they skulk and act like junkies for some reason).

Having seen almost all of Dreyer's extant films I found this one to be the least well made with in terms of structure. Maybe it requires more than one viewing?

Surprisingly modern take on an old theme; definitely holds your attention.