Persona

Persona ★★★★★

Well this was quite something. I'd been slightly underwhelmed with the other Ingmar Bergman films I'd seen before this (Seventh Seal because it wasn't what I expected and Passion of Anna because it's a bit dull) but this has convinced me that he deserves his reputation as one of the great masters of cinema.

It's not an easy film to review, given that I'm not entirely sure what happened. It tells the story of an actress who suddenly turns mute despite being in perfect mental and physical health and the young nurse assigned to look after her. As they spend more time together and the nurse opens up their personalities start to become merged or blurred... Or something like that, like I said I'm not entirely sure what happened. It reminded me of Mulholland Drive in some ways.

However what impressed me the most about this film was the striking imagery, the deeply personal emotional nature of the story, and the central performances. The film is shot in black and white and this is used to beautiful effect with faces and rooms bathed in ominous shadows, and some surreal, seemingly unrelated imagery at the beginning and end which involve, amongst other things, a tarantula and bodies in a morgue. Bergman may be criticised for making his films too talky but at least that makes it simpler to connect with the themes and messages of the story, which are clearly very personal to him and struck a chord with me as a viewer. Last but not least the two central performances are masterful, with both leads totally inhabiting their characters and Liv Ullman giving her mute actress an incredibly mysterious air. Often if a character in a film has a "mysterious past" or something of the sort I don't give it much thought, but I found myself truly intrigued as to what was going on inside her mind and could understand and sympathise with Alma's frustration.

Overall a masterpiece of cinema, one that manages to be very artistic and symbolic etc but also accessible and engaging on a personal level which is something I fairly often find lacking in more artistic fare. Bit weird though.