Persona

Persona ★★★★★

Hyperboles do not matter when discussing Persona, for the film is all but stated in fact that it is not only Bergman's masterpiece, but holding the incredible feat of being considered one of if not the best film ever made.

There are many factors that go into Persona carrying this title, perhaps even too many to explain or be able to fit in this review, but needless to say, it has every element that a perfect film should have. From the famous opening sequence that is an editor's paradise (in fact often cited as an example of the best edits in film history) to Nykvist's iconic shots and frames with light and texture; the way he molds the two actresses with the camera, utilizing shadow and pose to his advantage. All under the masterful direction of the cinematic giant himself, pulling the strings as head puppet master delivering a complex tale that is both coherent and incoherent simultaneously. The film has a double edged sword of surrealism and realism that forever keeps the audience at bay, but also imprisons them to be engaged with the material. It is the epitome of an interpretative film that offers vast richness in film discussions.

Thematically of course, all fingers point to the constantly recurring symbolism of duality. I say of course, but note that nothing in this film is ever cut and dry. This is just the more simple interpretation that I obtain from the film, because in fact, Persona is more along of the lines of today's term of Lynchian. In the way Lynch's surrealism is never revealed in a clear motive for theme, but always heavily discussed through interpretation. This is the way Bergman's film works as well. However, duality is extremely apparent throughout, from Alma's hysterical questioning of whether she is real/exists, and the possibility of being two people at once (when describing her pregnancy pre-abortion). To of course, the visual metaphors Nykvist films in the way the actresses positions themselves, and even the ending seems fairly strong to the idea that both women were in fact one in the same.

Another heavy theme is the reversal in roles, a subtle switch from the doctor to the patient. Who is actually treating who? In the beginning, Alma disguised in her profession is clearly the caretaker, but once at the summer home, she becomes increasingly more dependent of Elisabeth. There becomes a sudden change when Alma seems to be the manic one in need of help while Elisabeth, despite her forced muteness still applied, is the more sane of the two. This reversal is gradual and easily concealed, but once it hits, it delivers and in raw power too. This of course, aided by the talented actresses of Bibi Andersson, in perhaps her best performance, and a virtually silent Liv Ullmann, taking acting back to its core in pure facial expressions.

This film is filled with such terrific moments that I have to mention, and it is remarkable of the success that Bergman achieves here with seemingly minimal resources. With just four actors and two set locations (the hospital and the summer home), not counting the subliminal dream inspired montage in the beginning and midway through, Bergman is able to create some of the finest moments in the history of cinema. Most of this is certainly to do with his talent as a writer. However, one of the pivotal scenes of the film with Alma describing her past and secret sin of an orgy on the beach, is actually partially written (or more precisely rewritten) by Bibi Andersson herself, to make the dialogue sound more authentic coming from a woman.

There is also a subversiveness that is unparalleled within this film. Obviously being filmed in 66' during the height of the Vietnam war and other global atrocities, these events play an integral part to the plot of the film. Another disturbingly effective scene is of Ullman in the hospital, pacing in a nightly anxiety while watching the television in her room; displaying the very images of human chaos, of wars, and protest, and finally the infamous burning monk in horrific martyrdom. Ullman subsequently recedes in terror in the corner of the room, almost in a fetal form, to hide herself as she does with the shutdown of her senses, to shut out this very world she fears and despises. The same symbolic reprimand for humanity comes later in the film, in the form of another infamous photo taken during the Holocaust of the "Warsaw Ghetto Boy" used as a bookmark.

Persona is a film where it is easy for the words to flow when speaking of it. It's the kind of film that entire books could be written on. Most of all though, it is a timeless classic of world cinema that will never be forgotten in the medium of film.

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