The world cinema was dealt a double tragedy on July 30, 2007 when two of its most renowned directors, Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni, passed away. Arthur Meiselman has already paid eloquent tribute to Bergman, a director who expected maturity and deep thought from both his actors and his audience. I remember my first encounter with Bergman in college, coming out of the Athens Cinema in Athens, Ohio, after having seen Bergman's "Shame," and feeling as if all the skin had been peeled off my body. I did not quite replicate that experience with the other Bergman films I have seen, but still marveled at the power of "The Seventh Seal," "Wild Strawberries," "Autumn Sonata," "Fanny and Alexander," "The Virgin Spring," and other merciless dissections of the human mind and heart. But Bergman could still surprise me, as he did with that most exquisite and worldly-wise of romantic comedies, "Smiles of a Summer Night." (It's now impossible for me to think back on that film and not hear the sweetly acidulous, funny-sad melodies that Stephen Sondheim created for his musical adaptation of it, "A Little Night Music.") I am far less familiar with Antonioni's work, and what I have seen of it tends to make me agree with Orson Welles' assessment of Antonioni as "that fabricator of empty boxes." But the image of Monica Vitti in "Il Deserto Rosso," looking lost and waiflike in the industrial wasteland her haute bourgeois world created, is one I still carry with me.
As sad as the loss of Bergman and Antonioni was, they were old men who lived fully, created an impressive body of work, and knew well the world's adulation. Far sadder was the death of German actor Ulrich Muhe, who died of stomach cancer July 22, just months after the worldwide distribution of "The Lives of Others," the first film to bring him international attention. Playing a rigid, authoritarian Stasi agent whose views are transformed by the dissident intellectual couple he is keeping under surveillance, Muhe created an unforgettable portrait of a man who, slowly and at first unwillingly, undergoes a metamorphosis from monster to hero. Few cinematic portraits of redemption have been more moving. At 54, Muhe was a little over half the age of Bergman and Antonioni. It is tragic that there will be no more new work from him; but his performance in "The Lives of Others" still constitutes more than most actors accomplish in a lifetime.