Ingmar Bergman, Sweden 1958, 101 mins HD R16
The Magician is one of Bergman’s most enigmatic films, perhaps his underground masterpiece, one of the keys to his cinema. Traveling actors, maids flirting about, a love potion, a happy ending, and diabolical apparitions – Bergman gives himself to the vertigo of quoting himself. Mourning his past, he makes an inventory of his themes in order to proclaim their end, bringing back all his characters, all his actors, who return for a bow. Everything is there, everyone is there, but beneath, abstraction is at work, mystery rumbles, doubt is gnawing at the whole. For in the center of his moving universe, this baroque forest of signs and symbols, we find a figure, the mesmerist Vogler, Bergman’s first major self-portrait. It should matter that at this moment in his work he represents himself as – or rather, as wearing the mask of – a mute illusionist who’s lost his faith in his power and knows only how to perpetuate appearances. All that is left for Vogler, the impotent magician who’s unable to invoke his magic, are the accessories of the part: his beard and wig, pathetic subterfuges. It’s the author, devoured by doubt and taking refuge in silence. He’s isolated, having shut himself off, facing his conscience and demons. Facing the secret of his art, which he’s the only one to know doesn’t exist, that there is no secret, that the king is naked.
– Olivier Assayas, Cahiers du Cinema.