Monday, May 30, 2005

The Magician (Ingmar Bergman)

I saw this film weeks ago. I've been either out of town or not in the mood to write, so my recollection is not so good. What I do remember is that nearly every member of Bergman's acting troupe, with the exception of Harriet Andersson and Liv Ullman (the latter having not entered his orbit yet), appears in this film. Why so many of his favorite actors in one film, I wonder? Is there any significance to it? Maybe they act as a safety net for Bergman because "The Magician" seems to me such a structurally unique departure from his usual methods. It's unmistakably a Bergman film, but, tonally, it sits somewhere else. Unlike the consistently severe chamber dramas that make up the majority of his body of work (which I admire greatly in non-consecutive doses), "The Magician" is slippery and confounding, full of jarring changes in tone and character allegiance. Crucially, the audience is never goaded into sympathy or antagonism for any character but is set adrift, forced to choose allegiances on its own and constantly asked to question those choices. Too complicated to be reduced to the Magic/Art/Religion vs. Science allegory that frames the story, "The Magician" veers wildly and sloppily from drama to comedy to horror to self-parody the way our own lives do, though the film is more fable than reality.

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