Persona ★★★★½

”The hopeless dream of being - not seeming, but being. At every waking moment, alert. The gulf between what you are with others and what you are alone. The vertigo and the constant hunger to be exposed, to be seen through, perhaps even wiped out. Every inflection and every gesture a lie, every smile a grimace.”

Leave it to the great Ingmar Bergman to craft a hypnotic, ambitious, puzzling, and haunting piece of art. Persona is a very puzzling film, one that will surely leave me putting the pieces together for a while. But if there’s one thing I am sure of, after this first viewing, Persona is incredible.

Bergman tells what seems like a simple story, but grows to become incredibly perplexing and disturbing. An actress, Elisabeth Volger (Liv Ullman), has suffered a strange form of stroke, leaving her mentally and physically healthy, but she has lost the will, desire, and (possibly) the ability to speak. A nurse, Alma (Bibi Andersson) is assigned to take care of her. I could explain more, but it’s best to go into this film as blind as possible. It’s a narriative that grows in its complexity, leaving the viewer confused, but intrigued at the same time. Bergman tells the story with such excellence, and narriative fluidity. The atmosphere and the performances left me hypnotized, despite not having full knowledge of what was going on. But the film ties up the main plot in the end, while leaving enough ambiguity to leave the viewer thinking after the film ends. The story is mind-bogglingly perfect.

Persona proves that you can make a film that’s both ambitious and minimalist. It’s story is way ahead of it’s time, and genuinely perplexing, but it’s executed in a minimalist way. Everything is subtle, making it fun to dissect and pick apart. It’s a story of personality, individualism, and duality, featuring enough subtext to leave even the most analytical viewer satisfied. Also, the film only features 4 characters in total (not counting the boy in the prelude). The lead character of Alma is brilliantly played by Bibi Andersson. Much of the film consists of her dialogue, and she makes it intriguing and entertaining to watch. The subtle performance from Liv Ullman Is excellent as well, her steely gaze penetrating the screen with its intensity. Alma is very well-written, as well. She’s a great protagonist, and her counterpart is interesting.

The hypnotic, haunting tone is executed with perfection. The film draws you in quickly with the fantastic black & white photography and ambient, minimalistic score. It creates an excellent atmosphere that’s equally interesting as it is disturbing. The sound design is great as well, even in its subtely. The technical elements don’t immediately stand out, but the film would definitely be lost without them.

Persona is a perplexing masterpiece. While I definitely didn’t get it all on first viewing, it’s easy to see how important and influential this film is. It’s a benchmark in atmosphere, tone, and plot creating a visceral and mind-bending work of hypnotic art.

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