Critic Andrew Sarris once wrote that Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932) may be the most compassionate film ever made. A stronger candidate might be Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Die Gezeichneten, sometimes called Love One Another. It marshals a multiplicity of plots to achieve a powerful vision of the plight of Jewish people in tsarist Russia during the failed 1905 revolution following Russia’s defeat in the Russo-Japanese War. (To locate the time, think Potemkin.) Adapting a novel by Danish author Aage Madelung, it was made in both German and Russian versions.
Dreyer achieves a trenchant, detailed portrait of adverse living conditions, of squalor and cramped quarters, and painstakingly draws a causal relationship between these and human behavior, including the minutest inflections of such behavior. To accomplish this, he relies heavily on his actors, mostly Russian emigrés.
His portrait of hatred and prejudice targeting Jews becomes ironical when violence is triggered against a village from St. Petersburg, to which Hanna Segal has migrated from the village, and where a man masquerading as a monk, along with a childhood friend of Hanna’s, helps whip up a frenzy of anti-Semitic hate.
Indeed, more than the plot is ironical. The film’s opening movement features a good many instances of doors opening and closing—but to suggest the entrapment of villagers in their environment.
The mass slaughter that ultimately erupts anticipates similar passages in Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925) and Dreyer’s own The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928).
Dreyer, the devout Christian, embraces his Jewish characters as fellow and sister beings. In his essay “Who Crucified Jesus?” (1951) he likens the Romans to the Gestapo, and in another, “The Roots of Anti-Semitism” (1959), Dreyer credits Judaism for an idea that is central to his philosophy: that “all human beings are equal to God.”
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