Persona ★★★★½

I'm generally not a fan of surrealism, especially when it's just random shots, without context or motivation. I just find it largely meaningless. And the opening sequence is just that - a bunch of random imagery flashed on a screen. No matter how much people try to analyze it, there's not much depth to be found there. But all that changes when a boy appears and places his hand on the projections of two different women, whose faces morph into each other and out of each other. The film at its simplest, is about Bibi Andersson’s Sister Alma and Liv Ullmann’s mute actress Elisabet, merging into a single form, during a summer vacation at a remote island.

Persona is a film without clear answers, though, I think Bergman has left us enough clues to make some sense of it. Persona, in psychology, is the personality that an individual projects to others, as differentiated from the authentic self. So to me, the movie is clearly about the broken psyche of one woman, represented as two characters, two sides of her personality. Elisabet is the real person and Alma is just a part of her psyche. Elisabet had a path for herself, dreams. But she became an actress instead and eventually a mother and along the way lost her identity. Alma represents Elisabet's idealistic self when she was younger. Through Alma, Elisabet is finally getting a chance to talk and be heard. Alma's long monologues reveal Elisabet's past sins and feelings towards motherhood. At times, she also lives through Alma, such as when her husband comes to visit. It is also evident that the boy touching the split image at the beginning and end, is the son Elisabet has abandoned, longing for his mother. The boy mirrors the real Ingmar Bergman who, as a child, longed for human contact but failed to reach his parents.

Bergman is a master at capturing the deep, dark and sorrowful part of the human condition and through his visuals, he showcases duality and separation while establishing a dreamlike atmosphere. Persona also features two of the finest performances ever captured on film. Liv Ullmann is magnificent in a near silent role, expressing so much through her face and gestures, and Bibi Andersson is an absolute powerhouse in a very complex, talkative role.

, remains to this day, an absorbing experience and an intriguing enigma.

Barbara liked this review