"In the Presence of a Clown" is another of the occasional TV productions with which Ingmar Bergman has fudged his "retirement" from filmmaking over the past 15 years. Shown in superbly clear projected video, the drama focuses on a mad inventor who stitches together a band of artistic associates and opens a 1920s movie theater in the snowy Swedish countryside, failing to attract many patrons despite his innovative use of live voices to accompany the images of his silent-screen biopic about Franz Schubert, the famous composer, lover, and syphilitic. The tale probes characteristic Bergman themes, including the simultaneous value and futility of art as a barrier against corruption, decay, and the death of memory, perhaps the worst of all earthly evils. This isn't major Bergman, but emotional and philosophical depths are suggested by its earnest performances, its flashes of great visual imagination, and its refusal to water down its difficult themes for the sake of fluid plot or character development. Bergman is no longer very fashionable in the cinema world, but he's still one of a kind.
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