Ingmar Bergman’s Persona is not an easy film to digest. If literature has meta-fiction, then this plays on the form of meta-cinema, blurring the lines between reality and fantasy and always, persistently, reminding audience that this is an artform. The Swedish master, who directed Persona during the years when the self-conscious cinema of the French New Wave was flourishing in the early 60s, slots in images upon images, visions within visions, until the story of psychological exploration lap over, creating a bewildering, even frustrating experience. He begins this picture with a montage of a morgue, footage of old movie reels and a boy putting a hand on a screen with a projected image of an actress. This is cinema, and it does not pretend to be real.
The story revolves around two women; Elisabet, an actress who suddenly become taciturn in a middle of performance, and Alma, a nurse who tends to the other’s wordlessness. The latter becomes the voice of the two individuals, and soon, identities shift and personalities merge. Built with such sharp and stunning monochromatic imagery, the idyllic seaside town in Sweden is nothing compared to the incredibly breathtaking performances by its lead actresses, Liv Ullman and Bibi Andersson. One powerful scene that has gone down to history books is that confession by Nurse Alma, as she confides her deepest secrets to the mute about her steamy tryst in the beach with two boys. There is no flashback, no superimposed techniques employed – but rather raw, impressive control of voice and face close-ups that the words said become images themselves for the audience to imagine and play in our heads. The result is something erotic and tormenting. And if that doesn’t compel enough, Bergman defies cinematic conventions and burns his celluloid after a sudden fallout between the two women; he blends and overlay the women’s faces to resemble one haunted individual.
DIRECTOR: Ingmar Bergman | CAST: Liv Ullman, Bibi Andersson | DISTRIBUTOR: Metro Tartan Distribution Ltd. | RUNNING-TIME: 85 mins | GENRE: Drama | COUNTRY: Sweden