Rashid N.’s review published on Letterboxd:
By 1966, Ingmar Bergman was a major household name. He had heavyweights such as The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries under his belt and that's excluding all his other influential films which helped to change filmmaking in numerous ways. Then, Bergman released Persona which may be Bergman's most influential work to date. It's certainly his most beloved and well-known film across the world for how unique and surreal it is. Speaking of its surrealism, that's an aspect which has made Persona one that's difficult to dissect and understand. We could probably go on and on analysing this film and we'd still have missed some details which goes to show the depth of not just Persona but Bergman himself. It showcases how thoughtful he was and also showcases how brilliant he was as a filmmaker.
Yet, Persona was far from flawless for me and I will try to explain why. I wouldn't call any of these as outright flaws. In fact, I couldn't really tell you any direct flaws from Persona and instead, these are, more than anything else, nitpicks and my own personal feelings so I hope that's understood. I'm not exactly sure on how to make this review flow well hence some weird structuring and meandering sentences but getting into it, I guess I felt like Persona is too on-the-nose and even a little...pretentious. That probably isn't the case but what if Bergman's ego got a little too big at this point in time? From interviews and videos I've watched, it's most likely that Bergman wasn't pretentious or anything but a part of me can't help but feel like his ego got a little too big for his own good. And as for my thought on this being too on-the-nose, I can't say that I fully understand the film as I'm not a genius nor a good analyst or anything but the whole main theme of duality, among tons of other themes, felt like it was shoved down my throat which really bugged me. And one more thing is that I honestly found this film to be really boring at times. I just wanted it to be over so that I could watch the next film in my schedule, Mishima, and that isn't a good thing at all.
Though, I don't want this to be an overly-negative review so I will mention my three favourite aspects of Persona; the atmosphere, cinematography, and performances. Starting off with the first, as I already mentioned in my previous review, a film's atmosphere or tone is usually very important for me as it adds a lot to my experience and I'm sure that's the same for many others. As for Persona's "vibe", I adored it. It has this certain piercing stiffness which is perfect for the story at hand. The film feels extremely distant yet it also feels like it's welcoming you into it's cold-blooded world and this causes an interesting state for all of us to be in. One that seems intentional and is ideal for the plot of this movie.
Next up is the cinematography; Persona was shot by legendary cinematographer Sven Nykvist and this film is easily one of the best cases of marvellous cinematography. I don't have a ton of information or opinions to add here but I will say that Nykvist has very quickly become one of my favourite cinematographers of all time. From his hauntingly gorgeous and breathtaking visuals for Ingmar Bergman's black-and-white work, such as here with Persona's frighteningly beautiful cinematography, to Nykvist's astounding coloured work with Andrei Tarkovsky's The Sacrifice containing some of the best and most stunning visuals I have ever witnessed. With Persona, the visuals have so much depth. You learn so much just by observing the tiny details and it really goes to show the prowess of both Bergman and Nykvist himself.
The final aspect I want to talk about are the performances and while the entire cast of only five people all did greatly, our two protagonists are where things become much more impressive as both Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann did amazing jobs. They both gave genuinely two of the best performances of all time. Andersson displayed a wide array of emotions exceedingly well yet Ullmann is the one who impressed me the most because of how great of a performance she pulled off in complete silence. Having a silent performance is not the craziest thing ever as it was done a countless number of times back in the silent era yet with Ullmann, there's just something so chilling and enticing with her performance. These two characters reminded me of David Lynch's Mulholland Drive which is a film I admittedly love quite a bit more than Persona but Bergman's influence on Lynch is undeniable. Lynch has such a unique style that is so recognisable but I'm certain Bergman helped to form Lynch's style in a couple of ways with Persona being a great example of the great Swedish director's influence on Lynch.
Alas, Persona may have not been as good as I hoped it to be yet it's definitely a film that deserves its praise for how influential it is. Then again, I'm not saying that just because a film is influential then it's good. I guess you could say Persona is something that I appreciate more than love. And yet, the more I think about it, the more I adore the cold, mysterious, and depressing nature and atmosphere of Bergman's grand film. I'm sure I'll love Persona with some more time, rewatches, and essays but only time will tell if that comes true.