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May 22, 2008

Day of Wrath

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Adrian Rudomin - 2006
Screen Media Films Region 1 DVD

A remake of the Carl Dreyer classic starring Christopher Lambert? Fear not, you purists, although the idea that may strike some as heresy might hit others as hilarity. What both films share, besides the title, is an examination of how faith is used and misused. In the Dreyer film, alleged witches were pursued and punished. Rudomin's film is about the pursuit of heretics during the Spanish Inquisition. Too top it off, this newer Day of Wrath is actually a pretty good film. What this version may lack in profundity it makes up for simply as handsome entertainment.

On the very basic narrative level, this is a mystery film featuring a hard-drinking cop, in Sixteenth Century dress. Lambert plays the sheriff of the town where a series of unexplained murders have taken place. Like almost all good mysteries, this one involves a conspiracy that involves almost every character, knowingly and unknowingly, from the sheriff who discovers he is a pawn in someone's game, to the highest reaches of Spanish society. Like many good mystery stories, this is also a parable about the corruption of power.

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While watching the film at about the time of what would have been my mother's 80th birthday, I wondered what she would have made of Day of Wrath. Some of the gore and violence would have appalled her. She might have raised her eyes a bit at some of the gratuitous nudity. But the essence of the story would have been of considerable interest as she had spent some time studying the history of Spanish Jews, particularly the descendants in New Mexico who had only recently become aware of their heritage of Conversos. This is the kind of historical information that deserves more serious treatment than is given here.

History aside, there is another reason to put this Day of Wrath in the rental queue. We may not have Orson Welles or Charles Laughton, but the outsized Brian Blessed continually amuses as the governor who has appointed Lambert to his post. A dinner scene with all manner of fancy dishes easily recalls this image of Laughton as King Henry VIII. Lambert, in contrast, remains dour through most of the film, making the memory of his manic performance in Subway more distant.

Is this version of Day of Wrath more deserving of respect than its straight to DVD fate might suggest? Maybe just a little bit. One has to at least admire how good the film looks, shot in Hungary with an international cast, and a budget at least one tenth of the summer blockbusters. Visually, Rudomin and his cinematographer Tamas Lajos have lit some of the interiors to resemble paintings of the era. Even if this Day of Wrath may remind no one of that master of film, Carl Dreyer, I have to give some credit to a film that, even though anachronistic, will remind me of that master of painting, Rembrandt.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at May 22, 2008 12:20 AM