A masterpiece for some, an overestimated film for others, Haxan, Witchcraft through the ages has been the subject of much ink since 1922, when it was released. Potemkin re-releases the film in a beautiful DVD / Blu-Ray combo box. No less than three versions are compiled there, with different musics and multiple comments, including one by William Burroughs and the other by Jean-Pierre Kalfon.
Directed by the Dane Benjamin Christensen, co-produced with Sweden, the work bears witness to the inventiveness of the nascent Nordic cinema, which Carl Théodore Dreyer embodied even more at the same time. 1922, that is, the release of Nosferatu de Murnau, German Expressionism, a series of fantastic films in which Haxan is identified, by its subject, in addition to its “documentary” form.
Haxan opens with a somewhat scholarly introduction, but beautifully illustrated, explaining the origins of the supernatural in human consciousness, which includes the belief in demons and other witchcraft in which a conception of the world takes part. Then the film reconstitutes by successive short stories the history of the Inquisition established in the 12th century by Spain and repeated everywhere in Europe until the beginning of the 18th century.
Who were the witches, their clients / patients, how their trials, tortures and executions unfolded… So many aspects evoked in the historical reconstruction, based on the minutes of trials, testimonies and engravings of the eras crossed, over more than five centuries. Vast undertaking, which Christensen brings to life wonderfully. The reconstructed Sabbath is a major piece of world cinema. He dwells on the Loudun affair where a convent was taken of collective demonic possession in the 17th century, then lapsed into psychoanalysis.
Haxan draws from it the explanation of this murderous madness which made between 500,000 to 100,000 victims, overwhelmingly women. The nascent psychoanalysis at the time of the film (1922) accuses the judges, ecclesiastical or not of the Ancien Régime, of sticking to behaviors since then qualified as hysterical by Charcot, from 1860. The film does not pass. not next to a feminist rehabilitation of all these women victims of a patriarchy which then reaches its peak. Michelet was the precursor in The witch of 1862. The hysteria is moreover as much on the side of the women as of their judges, males, and most of the time clerics.
Haxan is a classic which remains a “curiosa” in its subject, daring, extremely documented, and its images. They evoke Hieronymus Bosch, Nielsen, and 15th century woodcuts. Christensen plays a magnificent devil, with his tongue hanging out, under a hallucinatory mask, humor points his nose and poetry is constant. The shadow theater and magic lanterns are never far away. Loved by surrealists, it is also incredible that William Burroughs recorded a commentary on the film in his wonderful voice. That of Jean-Pierre Kalfon also fits perfectly in one of the three versions. The three musical scores are remarkable, in particular that of Dagerlöff & Galner, unpublished, alongside those of Art Zoïd and Mattie Bye. Esoteric and beautiful, an unmissable goth must.
Haxan – Witchcraft through the ages
Denmark / Sweden, 1922
DVD / Blu-Ray combo box (3 discs)