A virtuoso riff, played fast and close by Ingmar Bergman to adduce themes from The Magician, Through a Glass Darkly, Hour of the Wolf, etc. The impetus is censorship, the first image is shot through a magnifying lens, the camera's eye surely: The judge (Erik Hell) surveys the ravaged faces of a trio of traveling actors, whose act has been deemed obscene and requires one-on-one interrogation. Gunnar Björnstrand is the head of the troupe ("The really great artists can't be hurt. I am not one of them"), scarred drama-king Anders Ek supplies his own angels and devils, frazzled Ingrid Thulin is the former's spouse and the latter's mistress, "not substance but movement." They stew in the bureaucrat's office, Ek feels Thulin up as they see "not a living soul anywhere" out a barred window, the nine scenes that follow play out in the void. Thulin is first a provocative neurotic with Ek, then a bawling pagliacci with Björnstrand; the two men share a bar counter chat about the shortcut to her clitoris, elsewhere the judge visits a confessional to affirm his own role in a world of cruelty (Bergman is the cowled priest, who turns his face in silence). Thulin trembles from "overdeveloped senses," as does the movie -- a hotel mattress is set ablaze and clown makeup streaks in front of a mirror, breakdown is constant yet the characters unite to vanquish the nemesis with their art. At last, the Rite: Persona and Performance, mock-pagan and mock-pornographic, a very wry recapitulation of the invasiveness of Bergman's cinema. Playing critic, Hell declares it "melodramatic" and pays the price. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce