Monday, October 18, 2010

The Magician

Woody Allen lists Bergman's The Magician as one of Bergman's top five best features. Interestingly enough, I would complete my viewing of The Magician only a day after watching the newest Woody Allen film. I was struck by a side story of both films: the loss of a young son and the effects of such a loss on a marriage. I may be pushing it to suggest Allen is playing reference to The Magician. But, I find the timing of my viewing for both films to be pleasing.

The Magician is considered a Bergman comedy. This is to suggest the usual Bergman themes are at play: death, religion, love. But, in a comedy, Bergman is more playful. The acting is a bit more melodramatic. And, as in Shakespeare, there is always the happy ending. In the case of The Magician, the happy ending very much lies in wait until the very last possible moment before the films end. In this way, The Magician feels more sinister, suspenseful, and dark than the Bergman comedy I would most compare with this film (Smiles of a Summer Night).

Bergman regulars are present: Max von Syndow (The Seventh Seal) is strong as the title character, Gunnar Bjornstrand (Winter Light) is appealing as the town doctor, Ingrid Thulin (The Silence) is sensual as the cross dressing Magician's wife, and Bibi Andersson (Wild Strawberries) is part comic relief. This is the success of a Bergman film. The use of actors throughout his filmography. The cast becomes a comfortable experience with each film. Also, in the case of The Magician, the film is about the relationship of actor to audience. It works well to have these familiar faces as part of the relationship we, the audience, have with them in the past and the present.

The Swedish title for the film is Ansikret (Faces). For some reason the film has always been called The Magician in the States. The title change tends to take away from the specific theme of identity throughout the film. Using The Magician as title leads one to expect a dark horror film, instead of a meditation on our identity and the way art is a form of trickery in itself. Speaking of identity, von Syndow is incredible as the slowly revealed Magician. At the films start, we see von Syndow dressed in wig, beard, hat, and he does not speak a work. By films end he has been stripped of all disguises.

Bergman does a great job of including the drama, the suspense, the brief 'horror,' and the comedy. All aspects of these film types are at play throughout the entirety of the film. Would I list The Magician as one of Bergman's top five films? No. But, I certainly add it to the always growing list of Bergman's great films. As I have yet to view a film of his that I did not enjoy.


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