Tuesday, August 07, 2007

And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets.
Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel's hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.' Revelation:8: 1-5

News travels slowly to Djenne, Mali. I found out only two days ago that Ingmar Bergman, my countryman , had died.
That night there was a storm of monumental strength. The skies flashed and raged with the fire from the angel's censer. This was not a normal storm- it was a spectacle offered as a salute; it appeard to me as the sounding of the last trumpet for the greatest of all film directors.

Two and a half years ago the National Film Theatre in London gave a season of Bergman films. I went with my friend Sanjay - we met cheerfully for a drink in the foyer, then saw that evening's film and emerged, shattered and emotionally destroyed, unable to speak, only just to mumble 'see you tomorrow'. And the next day the same thing again...The Seventh Seal, The Hour of the Wolf, Winter Light and many more. Why did we want to go through all that pain? Perhaps Bergman's films are the most successful contemporary example of Aristole's idea of what constitutes tragedy: catharsis or the purging of the emotions of fear and pity?

In any case the pain incurred by a great piece of art is a life-giving thing.

As a matter of fact, Bergman was also capable of comedy of course, although he is best-known for the dark pieces. One of his most delightful but little known films is 'The Devil's Eye'- a light, elegant fantasy involving the return from hell to earth of Don Juan to try and seduce a parson's daughter. But, like all Bergman's films even The Devil's Eye contains more than its share of profound wisdom and human understanding.

Bergman was constantly questioning the existance of God and our possible relationship with Him. He never gave any answers. I remember watching the Seventh Seal with an American friend who was extremely irritated by the film: 'OK, so that may all be kinda interesting', he said, 'but what is his message?' Bergman was not a dealer in answers but in questions.
Anyway, now finally he must know the answers...?


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