Persona

Persona ★★★★★

The medium of film deserves it's due interrogation.

It is an artform that aids and abets and resits and repels tragedy, that documents the abuses of power with the same clinical distance and inherent bias that it captures blooming love. The camera is the most powerful tool in the modernized world, after all; it lets anyone do or say whatever the want, so long as they have the willpower and the means to get their message out there.

There is a scene where Elisabet reacts to the self-immolation of Thích Quảng Đức, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk whose radical form of protest informed not only the American (and perhaps global) perception of the Vietnam war, but also revealed the unbound power that the camera held over us all. It is a brutal, violent, upsetting image, and the blurred line between reality and fiction in Bergman's inclusion of the event might be crossing a line of taste in the process. But it is also deeply telling that it is the most grossly physical moment of a movie that fixates itself on the study of people in close-up, in all their ugly truths and impossible souls, is disrupted by a moment where the violence of Alma's shock is so extreme that the camera must distance itself as far as possible for fear it will be destroyed in the process of her processing.

Images have power. 24 frames per second, every image rushing by our eye forming an impression of a dramaturgical world that shapes our perception of our reality - even the most abstract and fantastical movie is still being made by human hands after all. Whether hyperkinetic editing is shaking the boundaries by which the implied "reality" of Persona's world truly exists or the dangerously slow pacing soaks in all the depth and complications that the human face can reveal, one this is clear:

This is fundamentally an extreme movie.

It is a movie of juxtapositions and how thin the lines between them are; love and hate, violence and peace, fact and fiction, life and death, you and I, Alma and Elisabet. All these extremes operate on degrees of separation that are so arbitrarily narrow in practice; Elisabet's silence is
tested by pleas for love, threats of violence, conscientious objection against the cruelty of the world threatened by a cruelty born of devotion. After all, doesn't Alma only wants Elisabet to be well? Even if the relationship and degree of trust between the two is nebulous and self-destructive depending on how literally and charitably you take their words and actions to be, Alma does care for Elisabet.

Right?

The self-immolation grounds this movie to a specific time, place, and context that the visual and thematic aims of the filmmaking feel otherwise totally unbound from. It also makes it clear that this film is, in itself, an act of protest - protest against narrative norms, narrative function, against the limitations of genre and patriarchal authorship, despite having a fairly straightforward premise and obeying conventions of genre and being made by a male author. It exposes hypocrisies and inadequacies in form through it's very essence, twisting itself into knots until it hardly makes sense anymore.

And I love it.

I love how it tests me, how personal it is, how radical it is, how every strand of internal logic can be followed until it is cut off by a brick wall, a messy web of logic that refuses to be understood. I wanted to watch this again halfway through (before the film literally disintegrates under the pain and stress of it's emotional throughline). There is a spark and vigor to this that few movies could ever compare to, even when so much of it is just a protracted one-way discussion.

The masks we wear define who we are, after all, and a face says just as much as a million words would ever be able to.

Film merely adds the pretense of subjectivity, objectivity, and authorship to it all. It weaponizes glances, atomizes words, and reconstructs the human face, forever and always, because the images we create are images we will have until the end of time.

Whether they come to define us, save us, or destroy us will only be determined by how deeply we dedicate ourselves to the masks we wear.

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