Persona ★★★★½

I feel like you have to be a few dings higher on the intelligence scale (or at least better educated in film studies) than I am to really talk about Persona. It's a deep, textured film with a lot going on in the subtext--and, frankly, on the surface--that it's hard to parse through. Not helping is, as a film firmly entrenched in the canon, plenty of smart people have already written the film into the ground. I cannot bring anything new to the table.

On the surface you might have the relationship between two women: One a famous actor who can't (or won't) speak, the other her new nurse. Both have been sequestered at an isolated beach property to give the actor some fresh air for recovery. But the nurse, encouraged by her ward's silence, starts filling the void with her own thoughts and feelings, creating a sense of intimacy that may not be shared.

On the surface, then, this might be about miscommunication--or, more accurately, assumptions--that leads to mental and emotional strains. Where adoration gives way to a destructive domination.

This possible surface story would be effective on its own (especially paired with Ingmar Bergman's impeccable filming), but it's done with such stylistic boldness that everything gets heightened. And then there's all the subtext stuff: The actor's child, the Vietnam War, sex, faithful(less?)ness, and, doubtlessly, more. These things feel random--little stutters at the outset during the formless prelude--except they're referred back to in the film that's both subtle, yet coherently intentional.

Then throw in a sense of duplicity between the women, of role-swapping (or taking), a discernible split in identity. I don't fucking know. But it feels like a film that people have been trying to replicate--one way or another--ever since.

But for being a film that is so hazy about what it's doing, Persona is incredibly consumable, very enjoyable, just a bang-up experience from the beginning. Helping is a brisk 90min runtime, just enough to riff the themes without becoming mired in them. It never drags, is always interesting, impossible to look away from.

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