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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

ANSIKTET / THE MAGICIAN (aka THE FACE) (1958)

This major work from Ingmar Bergman remains far less known then THE SEVENTH SEAL and WILD STRAWBERRIES, which came out the year before, or THE VIRGIN SPRING, which followed. But FANNY & ALEXANDER/’83 partisans (hands, please) should jump on this early thematic cousin. Max von Sydow & Ingrid Thulin (fetchingly dressed as a young man) lead a ragtag 19th century ‘medicine show,’ a traveling wagon that features magic acts, love potions & ‘magnetic’ cures. They find themselves holed up at a rich man’s estate where their character & skill are put to the test by a houseful of local authorities and learned skeptics. Bergman labeled this a comedy, and there is a fair bit of ribald country larking going on in the parlor, bedroom & beyond (a bit too robustly played), but the main interest lies in the struggle between an entertainer and his audience. Doubly difficult here because Sydow is something of a fraud, but not without a measure of real psychological power in spite of having to play mute while in character. The inconsistent tone of the story takes some getting used to, but by the third act, which climaxes in a tour-de-force funhouse scare scene, everything Bergman touches really is magical. So, hang in there. (Oh, and if you haven’t yet seen FANNY AND ALEXANDER, be sure to get the full European cut, not the shortened Stateside theatrical release.)

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