Review - "Persona" (1966) (Svensk Filmindustri)

WriterDave By WriterDave, 25th Jun 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Reviews>Film & TV>Drama

Bergman's films are experiences in and of themselves. Bergman was quite adept at genre switching, and dabbled in comedy, mystery, Greek chorus-like interplays, morality tales, as well as existentialism, and philosophical musings. He was most skilled, however, in the art of drama. His dramatic films are satisfying on a multitude of levels, and stand out as his best.

Bergman's Fascination with Ullman & Andersson

Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann shine in Bergman’s, “Persona.” Andersson had worked with Bergman many times before, as well as being his lover, while Ullmann knew Andersson but not yet Bergman. Bibi & Liv were walking down a street in Stockholm and suddenly Bergman appeared. Liv was introduced to Ingmar by Bibi, and Bergman was automatically struck by the two women’s similarities. Bergman, who always took many of his ideas right from his own life, asked Ullmann if she’d like to be in a film. At the time, Ullmann thought he was kidding. This then, was the legendary first meeting of Liv & Ingmar, who would make there first film together in 1966 entitled, “Persona.”

A year or so later, Ullmann was pregnant with Bergman’s child. Their romantic relationship lasted less than a decade , but their friendship and professional partnership endured a lifetime. Liv Ullmann, a very strong, outspoken woman, became a director herself, following in the footsteps of her mentor, Bergman.

“Persona” is a film about behavior and psychology in many ways. The opening minutes are experimental clips meant to disorient the viewer, but also to let the audience know that it is watching an illusion, finely crafted by a master of cinema. The story settles into a tale about a woman who is a stage actor and has a nervous breakdown one night when she is performing. Her breakdown manifests itself in her total silence, we assume by choice. It is revealed eventually to the audience that the woman’s silence is an attempt to not ring any false notes; a kind of voluntary monk-like respite.

Andersson is the nurse assigned to the care of Ullmann. They retreat to a remote island on the advice of a doctor where the roles of ‘nurse’ and ‘patient’ are rapidly blurred. At times, it seems as if Andersson is the one who needs the therapy over Ullmann.

The island, funnily enough, is Bergman’s own Faro, an island below Russia and above Norway that he had built a house on and lived with Ullmann for many years in real life. The scenery: stark, beautiful, overcast, rocky, epitomizes Bergman’s own psyche and is the perfect setting for many of his films (“The Passion of Anna” and “Hour of the Wolf” for example).

Sven Nykvist’s cinematography and camera-work (for he also operated the camera) is brilliant, as per usual. The black & white photography perfectly accentuates to two great beauties, highlighting their joie-de-vivre, intelligence, even their eroticism. The two women exact power struggles, delve into friendship, love & animosity within the confines of the beach house and around the surrounding areas of Faro. Considering the real life love affairs Bergman had with both women, it is the classic “life imitating art” scenario.

The famous ‘freeze-the-film’ portrait of a morphing of one half of each of the actresses visages Bergman came up with begs the question: “What was Bergman trying to say here?” Perhaps, it was to suggest how each character had taken on attributes of the other by film’s end. When Bergman showed a preview photograph of the infamous morphing to the two women, Andersson remarked that it was not her but Ullmann, and Ullmann said it was not her but Andersson. They were both surprised to realize it was an amalgamation of them both.

The beautiful, contemplative, erotic, experimental, and deeply dramatic yarn, at times, is absolutely hypnotic. If you have purchased the re-issued MGM’s special edition DVD, there’s an amazing documentary on the ‘Special Features’ menu entitled, ‘A Poem in Images” that is not to be missed.

Bergman made different films for different time s in his life, much like Picasso’s varied artistic periods. “Summer with Monika” and “Wild Strawberries” are a part of one era of film making for Bergman, while “Fanny & Alexander” could be said to illustrate another epoch. The time period when “Persona” was made into the mid-nineteen seventies is clearly the Liv Ullmann period. Some might akin this analogy to Woody Allen & Diane Keaton, thence Woody Allen & Mia Farrow. Bergman’s films are at once art, entertainment, and sometimes a personal sort of diary of his love affairs. This is one of the reasons Bergman’s films are analyzed and debated over to this day; because of their complexity, and humanistic shadings.


Bibi Andersson, Ingmar Bergman, Liv Ullmann

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author avatar WriterDave
Writing can be many things to many people. For me, it is a way of expression and understanding. Reviewing films, hopefully helps myself and others better understand and get more out of the film.

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