LEAVES FROM THE BOOK OF SATAN (1920)
aka Leaves from Satan’s Book, Blade af Satans bog
Article 4565 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer
Featuring Helge Nissen, Halvard Hoff, Jacob Texiere
What it is: Epic anthology
Satan is condemned to an existence of trying to turn people away from God; for each success, he has 100 years added to his sentence, but for each failure he has 1000 years taken off his sentence. We then see him in action throughout several periods of history.
Carl Theodor Dreyer was inspired to make this movie after having seen D.W. Griffith’s INTOLERANCE, and though he doesn’t match it in scope, size or length, it does seem more focused and less inclined to melodramatics. The four historical events he chooses to portray are the betrayal of Christ, the Spanish Inquisition, the French Revolution and the (at that time) current event of the Finnish civil war. Satan appears as a character in each story, though under a human guise. Taken as individual stories, the identity of a character as Satan could have been dispensed with in three of the stories; however, in the French Revolution story, not only does the character openly admit to being Satan to another character, but a genuine supernatural event pops up in the story. Furthermore, taken as a whole, the Satan character is essential to the unity of the movie. I found the French Revolution story to be the most engaging, while the Spanish Inquisition story is also pretty good. The Christ story, though it features an excellent performance Jacob Texiere as Judas, is marred by the fact that he is practically the only character that has any dimension, and the Finnish civil war sequences is a bit confusing, though this may be partially due to the fact that from today’s perspective, it is the most obscure of the events (though it certainly wasn’t in the time and place when the movie was made). Overall, this is the weakest of the Dreyer films I’ve seen for this series, as I found both VAMPYR and DAY OF WRATH to be more intriguing.