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A Tradition of Torturing Women


When teaching courses in Scandinavian art cinema, particularly those that focus on film authorship, it is difficult to avoid the anxious question of why the most prominent Scandinavian directors of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries seem so caught up in the representation of female suffering and sacrifice. This chapter argues that the motif of the sacrificial woman marks a discernible line of inheritance from Henrik Ibsen and especially August Strindberg to Carl Th. Dreyer, Ingmar Bergman, and Lars von Trier. The films analyzed in the chapter suggest a drive toward accessing the unknowable, invisible, and all-powerful by imagining the innocent, virginal woman as having privileged access to that voice. The chapter focuses on scenes of interrogation and spiritual dialogue in Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc, Bergman's The Seventh Seal, and von Trier's Breaking the Waves.

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