Danish film master Carl Theodor Dreyer’s “Michael” is a very good LGBTQ drama that tackles a lot of the sexual politics of the period and the often unrequited loves between queer individuals. The entire taboo nature is explored very subtly with Dreyer’s fascinating narrative. Here, “Michael” dissects the relationship between a master artist and his apprentice and how their love for one another fueled their love for art as well as their misguided affections for a young woman.
Aspiring young artist Michael (Walter Slezak), shows some of his sketches to renowned painter Claude Zoret (Benjamin Christensen) who isn’t crazy about his skills. As the young man leaves, Zoret asks him if he’d be interested in becoming his model. Much to his surprise, Zoret is quite taken with the young man’s good looks, and Michael perhaps hopes to earn a little whilst he learns from “The Master” that he clearly admires. As the two form a deep love for art, they (along with their colleagues) begin to wonder if their partnership is as innocent as it appears.
This romantic tension becomes increasingly problematic as their societal demands and careers push them in various directions. This also includes their love for a young woman (Nora Gregor is memorable) who gradually acts more like the middle man between them, rather than an object of affection. Carl Theodor Dreyer handles the gay romance with kid gloves most of the time, offering more a suggestive, chaste passion that the two men could never realize, even well in to their old age. There aren’t any moments of embrace, but the performances by Walter Slezak and Benjamin Christensen allow us to perfectly grasp their inherent sexual tension.
The idea that silent films rely a lot on the eyes to provide expression works to the advantage of the chaste romance, as both men seem very intensely in love, but don’t have much of an idea how to act upon the feelings. This ends in a heart breaking series of circumstances that, like millions of others, resulted in pure misery based around ignorance of homosexuality. “Michael” isn’t a masterpiece as, even at ninety minutes, the pacing is absolutely glacial. But for a unique and ahead of its time LGBTQ romance dealing in societal taboos, as well as Carol Theodor Dreyer’s fantastic direction (and excellent cinematography by Karl Freund), I highly recommend it.
Now playing in Virtual Cinemas across the U.S. (and the Film Forum on July 3rd) as a part of Kino Lorber’s PIONEERS OF QUEER CINEMA program for Pride Month.