At the beginning of The Rite, an examining magistrate stares intensely through a magnifying glass at us, the audience: his authority is painstaking, and we are made uneasy by its scrutiny. But with the next shot we switch to his viewpoint and study with him ‘Les Riens’, the trio of strolling players who are to be interrogated for the alleged obscenity of one of the scenes in their theatre show. So that we need be in no doubt by the end that the character of the magistrate is no more pristine than those of ‘Les Riens’, his vices are seen to match theirs in direct parallel. Violent, unscrupulous and solitary, he is as they are in all but one vital respect, and it is this single difference that is at the heart of Bergman’s tale. For the judge is only an observer, whereas ‘Les Riens’ are performers and the mysterious magic of the theatre is at their command. They confirm in the most direct manner possible that the ritual of dramatic presentation has a transcendent charge too powerful for analysisothat in a sense there is no case to answer. Amid surroundings pruned of detail, their supposed deeds compounded of betrayal, violence and fallibility, Bergman’s actors prove the point by instantly persuading us to accept their masquerade.
1969. English subtitles.Black and white.74 mins.