Lise’s review published on Letterboxd:
Part of the 2014 30 countries challenge, Film #1 - Sweden
I have to be up front about something. I'm not a fan of intellectual films. To be precise, I'm not a fan of films in which the dialogue is intellectual. That isn't to say I only like popcorn, far from it. It is just that when it comes to pronouncing intellectual ideas, I either prefer to read (essays and books, subtitles excluded, obviously), or watch a story or see visuals that elicit intellectual thoughts.
Having said that, I'm not sure that all of Persona fits into the category I dislike, but there were enough pronouncements being made to make me cringe a little. I can't say that I understood the film. I doubt anyone can, at least on a first viewing. From what I have been reading, it seems that Bergman may have been pushing the limits of cinema itself. If I am being honest I have no clue what that means. I would probably have to read a whole bunch of essays on the film to figure that out, something I am not inclined to do at the moment.
If I am going to figure out just a sliver of this film in the immediate future I have to focus on the one thing that stood out for me, and that is Alma's (Bibi Andersson) story of sex with the boy on the beach. It is a prominent story and I am trying to figure out why Bergman made it so prominent and why he thought Alma the nurse would pick that one story to tell. What about it is so important to her? Why was she telling it? Why did she want Elisabet Volger (Liv Ullmann) to know about it? If the film is an ode to cinema in some way perhaps Elisabet the actress is simply preparing for a role. Perhaps Alma doesn't exist per se and is but the character that Elisabet wants to portray. That would make the story being told mere character background, which some acting methods require. Or perhaps they are two different people but the film is from Elisabet's point of view and she is focusing on creating a character hence the importance of "a story". Or things are simpler, and Alma is real and just wanted to impress Elisabet in some way. I don't have the answers. Perhaps I never will. It is most likely that I am focusing on the wrong thing. But I don't take well to intellectual films, so I am focusing on the one small story that I was told in the film, and I want to assume that it is central in some way.
A re-watch is obviously necessary. I have nothing against films that need to be re-watched. I prefer it when a film leaves something a bit more tangible, something on which to hang the hat if not the coat, but I can't really fault the film for that. It is so obscure that one can't really fault it for anything, can they, and that is always a concern. All to say that the film is considered a masterpiece. I certainly can't declare it to be so given that I have no clue what I saw. Maybe one day. Maybe the 3rd or 4th viewing will push a button. Maybe not. I'm not convinced it is one of those films that needs to be 'experienced' à la Tree of Life, because it is altogether too intellectual for that. If multiple viewings are required to crack a bit of the nut, then multiple viewings it is, presuming, of course, that I want to crack the nut. I think I might.