You can probably bump Ingmar Bergman’s film of Mozart’s The Magic Flute (1975) up a half star if you happen to like the opera. I have to admit that I’m not fond of it, and that prevents me from fully enjoying this unquestionably brilliant film of the work. It does not prevent me from admiring Bergman’s handling of the material, or marveling at the cinematic playfulness on display. Bergman’s decision to present the opera as if it were indeed taking place onstage—and a period stage at that—is fascinating, especially because he only adheres to the concept as long as it suits his purpose. The opera never opens up in the sense that it leaves the confines of its theater, but the size and shape of the theater itself is hardly constrained to the cramped stage on which it’s supposedly being performed. (It would have to be a remarkably labyrinthian structure to present anything like the production Bergman gives us.)
Cheating the theatrical approach at every turn is not without its point. What Bergman does is to convey the actual magic of theater at its best. He conveys the sense of being transported into the world of the story being presented—a world in which the theatrical artifice melts away. While the film is certainly more light-hearted than most of the filmmaker’s work—even its darker aspects are only playing at being dark (spooky would be a better word)—it’s very much a Bergman film in its look. His tendency to stage shots in his unique way is unmistakable, and it’s impossible to miss similarities to his other more “serious” films. Very much worthwhile—even more so if you like the opera The Magic Flute.