Sunday, April 22, 2012

Silent Sundays: Leave From Satan's Book (1921)



"But know thee that for each man yielding to thy temptation the doom upon thee shalt be prolonged by one hundred years, but for each one resisting thee, thou shalt be relieved of 1000 years of thy judgment. Get thee away and continue thy evil doings."

            The battle between Good vs. Evil is a story old as time. All films no matter their subject or genre have a story of Good vs. Evil. In religion, especially, there are always story of the two forces colliding. Like most of the world’s population I was raised a Catholic. The story of Jesus being tempted by Satan is one I have heard many times. I was told that Satan will try to tempt us to do the wrong things. Let me just say this I am not a religious fanatic. I have become over the years a C&E Catholic where I only go to church on Christmas and Easter. When I was in undergrad I had to take a religion class as a requirement so I took a class on the Old Testament and I liked the class and the professor so much I took his New Testament class the following semester.
            Anyway I am sure you are wondering why I am telling you about me being a Catholic. I should not be saying that as not to offend any of my followers or readers of this entry but trust me it goes along with the silent film Leaves from Satan’s Book I recently viewed. The film was one of the best stories I have seen I was hooked from beginning to end.
            The film is told in four acts.
            The first act takes places in Jerusalem in the time of Christ around Easter. Satan takes the form of a Pharisee. The rabbis and the Jews did not have a very big problem with Jesus until the Pharisee came along and started antagonizing them saying that Jesus wants to take their places and other things. The Pharisee sees Judas one day. He sees that Judas is torn about Jesus he does not know what to believe in. He tells Judas that Jesus is the Devil’s son that he (Judas) can do something about Jesus. Satan goes further telling Judas that Jesus is an imposter and that Israel has chosen him (Judas) to kill the Son of God. Judas being a weak man believes in what the Pharisee is telling him. The Pharisee tells Judas that Jesus will be arrested and to betray him with a kiss.
            The second act takes place during the Spanish Inquisition. A young friar named Dom Fernandez has been tutoring a beautiful girl named Isabella. Whenever he tutors he fantasies about being with her. At the end of a lesson he whips himself out of penance but even as he punishes himself he thinks he sees Isabella under the cross. Satan is the Grand Inquisitor. He tempts Fernandez into becoming an inquisitor where nothing will be denied him. Isabella’s father is an astronomer which at the time was blasphemous. The Inquisitor hears about this and tells his people to bring him in along with the daughter who will most likely be a heretic too since he believes it runs in the family. He sends Fernandez to bring both father and daughter him. The father is killed for his blasphemous practice. The Inquisitor holds a trial for Isabella but of course she is found guilty. He lets Fernandez continue the trial and the friar has his way with her. Isabella is burned at the stake.
            The third and longest act takes place during the French Revolution. Marie Antoinette has been taken prisoner. She sits lonely in her cell and constantly prays to god. She is to be beheaded like her husband. A count named de Chambord has been sentenced to die because he is a noble. He tells his loyal servant Joseph to take his wife and daughter away and hide them so they will not suffer the same fate. He takes them to an inn in Paris and hides them there in peasant clothes. At the inn the Jacobins hold their meetings. Joseph has started to become interested in the ideas of the Revolution. Satan as a former servant named Erneste Durand tells the young servant that he is now in a high ranking Jacobin club and tempts Joseph into joining. Joseph becomes a high ranking henchman for the club. He is to help get Marie Antoinette out of jail and to safety (*or so I believe I was a little fuzzy on that detail*).  The count’s daughter tells Joseph they can never be more anything more than friends. That night a letter is given to a judge by Satan dressed as cripple. The letter states that the person knows where the de Chambords are hiding. The women are arrested and brought before the judge. Satan points to Joseph as the informer when he did not write the letter but to save himself he says yes that he wrote it. Joseph was supposed to help save the queen but instead he informed and gave her away. Satan tells Joseph that he has murdered three women as well as saying “Murderer is you true name now, as Satan is mine. Eternal damnation to you who dragged me into your ruin.”
            The fourth and last act is modern to director’s Carl Theodore Dreyer’s time and his home country of Finland. It takes place during the Finnish civil war between in the Whites and the Reds in a small village named Hirola. A young woman named Siri has a husband named Paavo and two small children. A name named Rautamiemi is in love with her. He tries to get her alone and make love to her but she resists. He threatens that if she does not run  away with him he will inform the Red guards of Paavo’s work for the Whites. Rautamiemi is unsure of what side he belongs to until he hears a lecture by a monk named Ivan who is Satan. Rautamiemi becomes a Red and tells them about Paavo and his followers. Paavo has a wireless telegraph and phone hooked to the followers to send messages to them. The Reds and Ivan go to Paavo and Siri’s house. They want him to send a message to a location where they can head the Whites off and kill them. Paavo refuses and is sent to the woods to be killed. Paavo tells Siri not to send the messages no matter what. She sticks to what her husband says even though she is threatened with the life of her children. Rautamiemi wants to have Siri all to himself but Ivan tells him to wait. Rautamiemi never gets his chance with Siri as Paavo is saved. Siri has unfortunately taken her own life to protect her country.
            Finnish actor Helge Nissen who played Satan throughout the film was excellent. He deserves a lot of credit for his part in making the film so incredible. He truly gave me the creeps in the third act when he had to yell at someone. He looked like he had sharp teeth and black eyes.
            I loved the stories. I was glued to them. They were so sad and so moving at the same time. What I liked the most was seeing how Satan was fitted in to historical events and what forms and people he took. It really does make you think.
            Another aspect I liked was how the women were not the ones doing the tempting as the Bible like to make women out to be. I mean if you really think about it the women in the stories besides the first act are the reason why the men go astray and are easily tempted by Satan because they have been rejected by their lovers but they are not the ones who are tempting the men to destruction. Also the women in the film are very religious and pious. A woman washed the feet of Jesus, Isabella was praying on her altar when she was arrested, Marie Antoinette prayed constantly, and Siri had a crucifix in her home.
            Leaves From Satan’s book takes a very Catholic/Christian point of view of Good vs. Evil. At the time the film was made that was most of the world’s thinking (just take a look at why the production code was enforced and who really drove it to be enforced). I believe the Catholic thinking of the pitted natures is very interesting and philosophical. Honestly to me any religion’s view of Good vs. Evil and their origins is interesting. You do not need to be religious to enjoy and like Leaves From Satan’s book the stories will keep you enthralled.