Part Of The Picture: Scene Setting

Posted on August 13, 2010



AUG 14, 2010 – AFTER THE OPENING CREDITS, OVER ominous sounds of jungle drums and scattershot guitar pickings, the scene settles on a distant shot of sylvan idyll. It’s a picture postcard frame, at the centre of which is a horse-drawn carriage surrounded by the outlines of people. We move closer. A man puts on a hat and walks away, past another who’s midway through a hearty meal. The one who walked away holds a pail up to the horses, slaking their thirst. Elsewhere, an old woman digs into the earth, looking up as a bird calls. And nearby, a solemn man sits beside someone dressed in menswear but almost too pretty to be a man. The man who was tending to the horses pats the animals and seats himself in the driver’s seat. Atop of the carriage, we see luggage. This motley group is all set to leave.

The old woman looks up again, hearing another birdcall. We see her closer this time, behind a tree stump. She’s stuffing a bag full of… roots, perhaps. She moves to another tree stump, and looks up yet again as the bird calls. It’s a crow. She purses her lips and spits in the bird’s direction. The crow flutters its feathers but doesn’t move. The wind is beginning to pick up in the background. We cut to the carriage rolling away and subsequently entering a denser area of woodland. Inside the carriage are the solemn man and his prettily handsome partner, and opposite them, the man who was scarfing down a meal and the old woman. “Well,” says the well-fed man to the old woman. “Find what you were digging for?” “Nothing,” she replies. The man laughs. “Aunt with her mandrake and sliced fingers and other mischief.”

The old woman counters, “Oh, yes. And ghosts walked sighing and wailing in the forest – so people didn’t dare enter after the sun had set. I remember well.” The man laughs again. “Aunt and her ghosts!” The old woman addresses the pair on the opposite side and reveals to the audience the name of the man she was sparring with. “Why have Tubal as an assistant? You should throw him out. Do you hear what grandmother says?” Tubal continues to find her amusing. “How would Vogler’s Magnetic Health Theatre manage without Tubal? I only ask. For example, who got us out of Copenhagen? At night? At risk to his own life? After our Danish tour went to hell? I ask, but no one answers.” The old woman answers. “And who boils our medicine?” Tubal scoffs. “Aunt would have been killed long ago if people knew what she put in it.”

The old woman retorts, “What is healthy isn’t always tasty, my mother said.” Tubal says, “I take responsibility, anyway.” The old woman sneers, “And the profits.” Tubal places a hand on her knee and issues a veiled threat. “Don’t try, Aunt. Because I know something, me!” They stop bickering just enough to let us out of the carriage, just in time to see the horses stepping into a pond in a sun-dappled forest. And just like that, with just a single character revealed to us by name, we begin to realise a few things about this group – that they’re up to no good, that they’re likely peddlers of some sort of quack medicine and, more importantly, that they carry dangerous secrets about one another. What better way to begin a film about a performing troupe than with a healthy splash of theatrical intrigue?

Ansiktet (1958, Swedish; aka The Magician). Directed by Ingmar Bergman Visconti. Starring Max von Sydow, Ingrid Thulin, Gunnar Björnstrand.

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Posted in: Cinema: Foreign