Ansiktet (1958)


(director/writer: Ingmar Bergman; cinematographer: Gunnar Fischer; editor: Oscar Rosander; music: Erik Nordgren; cast: Max Von Sydow (Albert Emanuel Vogler), Ingrid Thulin (Manda Vogler/Aman), Gunnar Bjornstrand (Dr Vergerus), Åke Fridell (Tubal), Erland Josephson (Consul Egerman), Naima Wifstrand (Granny), Toivo Pawlo (Chief Starbeck), Gertrud Fridh (Ottila Egerman), Lars Ekborg (Simson, coach driver), Bibi Andersson (Sara), Sif Ruud (Sofia Garp), Bengt Ekerot (Johan Spegel), Oscar Ljung (Antonsson), Birgitta Pettersson (Sanna), Ulla Sjoblom (Mrs Starbeck), Oscar Ljung (Antonsson, burly stableman), Ulla Sjöblom (Henrietta Starbeck), Axel Düberg (Rustan, young manservant); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Allan Ekelund; Goodtimes Home Video; 1958-Sweden-in Swedish with English subtitles)
“An underrated Ingmar Bergman film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An underrated Ingmar Bergman film (“The Seventh Seal”/”The Virgin Spring”/”Through a Glass Darkly”), that somehow slipped under the radar. It explores charlatanism and the hypocrisy of the bourgeois by telling this satire of a real-life 19th-century Swedish mesmerist named Dr. Albert Emanuel Vogler (Max Von Sydow). The magician is so good at deception that in the end it is difficult to determine if he’s a fake or for real, as Bergman leaves the correct answer in doubt.

In 1846, Vogler’s Magnetic Health Theater, consisting of Dr. Vogler, a mute magician sporting a dark beard, and his assistant who is his wife Manda (Ingrid Thulin), disguised as a man, Vogler’s ageless elderly witch-like granny (Naima Wifstrand), Simson (Lars Ekborg), the coach driver and helper of pulling the strings for some of the illusions, and Tubal (Åke Fridell), the show’s sly barker who we will learn later only yearns for a quiet life as a homebody, are on a stagecoach fleeing the police, because of debt and charges of fraud, when they’re stopped by the police at a toll stop just outside of Stockholm. They are brought to the mansion of the small town’s petty rationalist councilman Egerman (Erland Josephson), and are asked by him and his invited guests, the blustery cynical police chief, Starbeck (Toivo Pawlo), and the arrogant skeptic of the unexplainable, a man representing science over the arts, the minister of health, Dr Vergerus (Gunnar Bjornstrand), to put on a supernatural show for their entertainment. The hosts are eager to humiliate the troupe as fakes, but when the show is performed, the coachman (Oscar Ljung) is hypnotized and in a fit of anger kills Vogler. It leads to a surprise ending, as Vogler is not dead but because he was so humiliated by these snooty rationalist upper-crusts he plots a revenge.

Bergman goes out of his way to point out that “people will pay anything for love.” It turns out that the vulnerable, the councilman’s wife who recently lost her child and the servants, become entranced by the magical spells of the magician and his cure-all medicine selling granny. The men of prominence look upon the arts as merely a means to amuse themselves. In other words, people believe what they want and see what they think they see. If there’s something like real magic, according to this Bergman film, one would have to discover that on their own.

There’s suspense, a fascinating look at the world of magic, good details presented of the period and plenty of comic relief, which makes this one of the more meaningful and enjoyable Bergman films.