A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Tuesday, 31 July 2007

The Magician

Ingmar Bergman, one of our greatest film directors, died yesterday at the age of 89. He's up there in my own personal pantheon of European and European-style arthouse directors - along with Truffaut, Renoir, Pasolini, Tarkovsky, Kieslowski and Ray - in fact for me he towers head and shoulders above them all. Bleak, existentialist explorations of soul and psyche his films may be - but they're often brilliantly theatrical and not always without humour. If you find The Seventh Seal (1957) unremittingly serious and symbolic, try one of my own favourites, The Magician (1958), which features a strange troupe of travelling players: inventive, funny, mysterious, extravagant, it's almost Shakespearian in its mix of tragedy and comedy. As well as Bergman himself, one always thinks of his amazing cinematographer Sven Nykvist, and his small and loyal coterie of actors such as Max von Sydow and Bibi Andersson, Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson - with whom he worked time after time. They all had such artistic rapport the script was often improvised. However these films are not for everyone. They're certainly more Dennis Potter than Harry Potter, should we say. Bergman can be a painful pleasure to watch. But if you want to feel more human, rather than escape the human condition, then his films could be for you. There's more to cinema than cynical commercialism - indeed, Bergman managed to achieve High Art.

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