Persona

Persona ★★★★★

My exasperation at trying to put to words the visceral experience that is Persona would, I think, best be paralleled by the exasperation of Bergman himself regarding the overture, or opening sequence of the film:

"I reflected on what was important, and began with the projector and the desire to set it in motion. But when the projector was running, nothing came out of it but old ideas - the spider, God's lamb, all that dull old stuff."
- Ingmar Bergman, Bergman on Bergman

Persona as surrealism; Persona as poetry; Persona as a dream - all that dull old stuff.

With such a simple, almost absurd glimpse into the artist's creative process, Persona can aptly be summarized as the unfiltered, transparent flow of creativity by a man who truly understood cinema the way few directors ever have; cinema at its most existential. There's no illusion here. No puzzle to be solved. This is the essence of cinema, lying naked at Bergman's feet. Over the course of the film it is kicked, prodded, mocked, parodied and cradled. By the end, cinema has been stripped of its skin and is left to shiver in the cold, icy world of Bergman's imagination.

Before Lars von Trier forcibly began to rape cinema, Ingmar Bergman exploited it with erotic passion.

I think nothing will ever quite top Persona when it comes to pushing the cinematic envelope. Sure, films have taken the medium in all sorts of innovative and often surprising directions, but they would be hard pressed to also have achieved the level of self-awareness apparent in Bergman's opus. Persona knows what it is, and even seems to audibly cry out in existential frustration at its apparent angst at being so fully aware. (I'm referring to the cry of agony heard at the film's mid-point "film tear" sequence, when cinema has a momentary lapse of consciousness and light-headedness. First, the nail in the hand. Then, the veins of a human eye.) From Bergman himself: "Today, I feel that in Persona – and later in Cries and Whispers – I had gone as far as I could go. And that in these two instance, when working in total freedom, I touched wordless secrets that only the cinema can discover."

Intellectually, Persona leaves me in the dust. I don't "get it." It doesn't really make sense to me at all. But I feel it, in a way I've rarely felt a film before. I swore to myself I wouldn't use this cliche again, but it honestly is the closest I think a film has come to being a dream manifested on celluloid. (And digital restoration, courtesy of the Criterion Collection!)

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