Persona is the sort of film that I struggle to review. When thinking about the movie today, all I could really say was that it was a bit odd but I really liked it. I could probably end my review there. Persona is an example of a film that tests my limited film knowledge and both my powers to describe, compare and contrast. I might as well start somewhere. I’ve been reviewing films as an amateur and very occasionally professional for a little over eighteen months. I’ve been a real life human person for over twenty-seven years. Despite all those months and years, Persona is the first Ingmar Bergman film I’ve seen. There are a couple of his films which I’ve been waiting for my online DVD subscription service to send me but Persona was lent to me by a friend and broke by Bergman cherry.
The film begins with a wondrous and surrealist section of flashing images which are spliced into footage of a boy, stood alone in a room. The boy eventually turns to a book which is pretty much the only item in the brightly lit, sparsely decorated room. The boy, the book as well as the images appear at first to be a random assortment of things but eventually at least some of the images can be viewed as pointers for the story that is to follow. Others, like the often cut image of an erect penis are harder (ahem) to explain.
Only five actors appear in this minimalist piece and just two of those appear for longer than a minute or so. The film is a study of two characters; an actress turned mute by an unknowable ailment and the nurse charged with her care. The film’s settings, both the hospital and cottage in which the actress is sent to recuperate, are equally as sparse as the boy’s room from the opening. There are few props and the interiors are bathed in bright sunlight against white washed walls. These sets are beautifully contradicted by the two women’s clean, black costumes and this makes the actresses and characters almost jump out from the screen. The film is deeply beautiful from start to finish, featuring sublime and often unusual framing as well as complex but interesting camera angles and trickery. The colour palate, like the rest of the film is minimal and the lack of props occasionally gives the movie the look of a play. I personally think that the film would make for a great stage adaptation.
The two women are at the same time very different but also incredibly similar. For a start one talks and one is silent. There are differences in their ability to care for others and their pasts are diametrically opposed. The most striking similarity they share is in their looks. This is played to great effect in a couple of pivotal scenes. At first the resemblance isn’t that obvious but there is a fantastic image of the two women’s faces spliced together as one which really highlights the similarity. The similarity of the two women’s looks had my mind racing towards a conclusion which I can neither confirm nor count out. There are many ideas for what Persona is actually trying to say and I could go on for pages about duplicity, entrapment, entanglement, pain, suffering, release etc but I tried not to over think the plot because in the end, we’ll never know what was inside Bergman’s head. Instead I chose to view Persona as the masterpiece it is and wallow in the many beautiful images it congers.
- Bergman himself admits to falling in love with actress Liv Ullmann during production. The couple stayed together for five years and had a child together.
- Bergman has stated that the film saved his life. He wrote the film while recovering from double pneumonia.
- The movie frequently features on all-time movie lists and has been a regular on the highly respected Sight & Sound poll.