Despite his lukewarm reception to Chained, Mordaunt Hall, in the very last sentence of his New York Times review, does admit “The settings are quite impressive and the lighting at times is unusually good, especially in some of the close-ups.” And he is right--perhaps not in his less-than-enthusiastic review, but in his admiration of the director’s eye. Dreyer certainly makes a movie, but I suspect he would have preferred a series of photographs, for he is at his strongest when he places his characters in tableaux, barely moving, their eyes, their posture—and the perfect play of light and shadow behind them--conveying deeply any number of subtle moods, ideas, secrets and revelations. For Dreyer, the image is a plot in itself.
And so it makes sense that his plot deals with an artist: a master painter, Claude Zoret, who values art as “beautiful memories,” and who gazes adoringly at Michael, his model/“son,” the older man’s shining eyes and serious smile discomfiting and unmistakable in their passion. It becomes a film about the impossible heart of “courtly love,” yearning with more-than-Platonic avidity, at once safe in the knowledge that the love can never be consummated, and scarred by the sadly noble decision that the only alternative is the melancholy pleasure of dying in peace and in love.