again The Criterion Collection digs into master director Ingmar Bergman’s vault
and brings us his exquisite, enigmatic film from 1958, The Magician (originally titled The
Face in the UK; in fact, the Swedish title, Ansiktet, means “Face”).
sometime in the 1800s, the story concerns a traveling magic and medicine show
called “Vogler’s Magnetic Health Theater.”The troupe consists of Vogler (Max von Sydow), the mute magician of the
picture’s title, his “ward,” Mr. Aman (Ingrid Thulin in disguise, although it’s
no surprise that the character is a woman), Tubal (Ake Fridell), who acts as
manager/spokesman, and the inscrutable Granny (Naima Wifstrand), an old witch
who dabbles in love potions.Picked up
along the road is an alcoholic actor, Spegel (Bengt Ekerot, who was memorable
as Death in The Seventh Seal).
the company can perform in a small Swedish village, they must first prove their
credibility for the Minister of Health, Dr. Vergerus (Gunnar Bjornstrand), the
chief of police, and a government official (Erland Josephson).All three men interrogate the company.Later, the troupe presents a private
performance in the official’s home.It
is the intention of the three townsmen to expose the magician as a fraud—but,
as only Bergman can do it, the tables are turned on the antagonists.
The Magician, in a way, is
Bergman’s Stardust Memories (Woody
Allen, 1980), in which the artist answers his critics.The Vogler character could be interpreted as
representing Bergman himself—an artist who hides behind a mask, creates
illusions for entertainment, but in reality is an insecure and doubtful
man.Bergman himself calls the film a
comedy, and indeed, there are many humorous moments.By making the three townsmen extreme
caricatures, Bergman targets the types of upper class detractors who gave him a
hard time during his formative years as a filmmaker.(As the Swedish playwright August Strindberg
once responded to one of his critics, “I’ll see you in my next play!”)
not on the same level as some of Bergman’s masterworks such as The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, The Virgin
Spring, Persona, Cries and Whispers, or Fanny and Alexander, The Magician still ranks as a solid
3-star effort from the director.For
fans of the man’s work, it will provoke discussion and head-scratching analysis—and
at the same time manage to be entertaining.
Fischer’s gorgeous black and white photography is never better presented than
in Criterion’s high-definition transfer.Every frame is a work of art.Extras include a new visual essay on the film by Bergman authority Peter
Cowie, and two wonderful vintage interviews with Bergman—one in English!
simply aren’t enough Bergman movies available on DVD in the United States; hats
are off to Criterion for continuing to unearth them.Hopefully the company will soon release Face to Face, From the Life of the Marionettes, Summer with Monika, A Lesson
in Love, Secrets of Women… the
list goes on and on!