Monday, July 30, 2007

Two less

Ingmar Bergman, who died today, was one of my favorite directors, both in film and theater. His movies are so well known that there's no point in even trying to explain why he was the last of the great. Even though I'm an atheist, his thorny relationship with god thrilled me—it remains rare to see an artist unafraid to tackle the metaphysical, and man's struggle to make sense of it all. I still vividly remember seeing Through a Glass Darkly while a student in Paris, and coming out of the theater with both a pounding headache and a knot in my stomach. And he was a perhaps even stage director: Seeing his King Lear at the Théâtre de l'Odéon in the mid-’80s was a shock to my personal system (I started uncontrollably sobbing just looking at the stage, before the actors had exchanged a single word!). Looking back on it, I think that's when my allegiance switched from film to theater. Let's send him off on a uncharacteristic note of levity—an utter lack of humor is one of the things I actually liked best about IB: no compromise—as French and Saunders lovingly send up the master here.

The other loss looks "minor" compared to Bergman, but Michel Serrault was the very definition of character actor, offering a series of memorable turns in that much neglected category. In France he achieved his legendary status when he starred in La Cage aux folles, written by and costarring his buddy Jean Poiret. (The two had formed a classic comedy team and had performed the original play version of La Cage more than 1,500 in the 1970s, before it was turned into a movie.) He was such a habitual, familiar presence that French cinema without him will be like a house from a which a beloved armchair has been removed, leaving a dustless imprint to mark the spot. Le Monde has a nice video tribute here.

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