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Magician, The

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Set in 19th century Sweden, The Magician (aka The Face) begins with the arrival of a travelling showman, Vogler (Max von Sydow), at a customs post in Stockholm. Vogler’s act consists of conjuring tricks, magic lantern performances, and the controversial new ‘science’ of mesmerism, and it is to investigate the claims of this ‘science’ that he is required by the authorities to give a demonstration before a committee that includes a highly clinical medical officer, Vergerus (Gunnar Bjornstrand). The dissection turns into a nightmare for the scientist, who finds that old reason and logic are no match for the authentic mysteries of life. As we can now see in the perspective of Bergman’s subsequent work, The Magician is one of his key films, illustrating through the doubts and confusions of its central characters Bergman’s harsh opinion of himself and his achievements. If it were no more than a horror film (and it has jolted many an audience in its time), The Magician would be justly rated as a classic. But the real terror it contains is the cliff-edge of doubt on which Bergman found himself poised and over which he has been falling ever since.
1958.
English subtitles.
Black and white
100 mins.

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