Persona ★★★★

Poetic or pretentious? You can make a valid argument either way about this experimental character study by visual auteur Ingmar Bergman. Already in the opening sequence of the film, we're assaulted by scattershot images of very extreme and offensive nature. A sheep being drained of blood and a close-up of a nail being hammered through a man's hand, are just a few of its many shock-instilling elements. And if you thought Tyler Durden in Fight Club was the first guy to splice in the image of a fully erect penis, then you haven't seen Persona.

After this very surreal and bizarre intro, however - which somehow felt quite reminiscent of the famous video from The Ring - the film dresses up in a more accessible narrative coat. We meet Alma (Bibi Andersson), a nurse who is charged with tending to the health of accomplished actress Elisabeth Vogler (Liv Ullmann), whom for mysterious reasons, has completely stopped talking and been silent for several months. During her care of Elisabeth, nurse Alma (who is the spitting image of a short-haired Kate Beckinsale), develops an obsessive bond with her patient; progressing to a state of confusion and ever-increasing insanity.

Although easy enough to get into - once you've settled into its psychological ether - let me make it abundantly clear that this is not a film for everyone. You need to have a very open mind and be mentally prepared for its potentially disturbing and off-putting content. An aquired taste if any for the uninitiated. But there's also great beauty with the subversion. Bergman's wondrous use of light and shadows, highlighting the gorgeous faces of its two female stars, doesn't make it hard to comprehend why he's been honored as a true pioneer.

Compared to his other works (that I've seen thus far), I would say that The Seventh Seal and Fanny and Alexander lie much closer to my heart. But it's nevertheless fully deserving of its critical acclaim. A movie so spartan, yet so captivating for reasons that are difficult to explain. For there's magic in the fabric here, that challenged my usual aversion to avant-garde art house fare and completely won me over. An enchanting piece of cinema history, that has rightfully earned its place as part of the Swedish cultural heritage.

Mikael liked these reviews