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A remarkable, and remarkably challenging puzzle of a film,
This review is from: Persona [VHS] (VHS Tape)
Originally some the earlier Bergman films harder for me to get into,
because most of the Bergman I saw first were from late in his career
and far more 'naturalistic' - 'Fanny and Alexander', 'Autumn Sonata',
'Scenes From a Marriage' etc. I don't think I understood that for much
of his great career he was as much an experimentalist (at times) as
David Lynch, or Fellini, or Kubrick or Godard. Now that I understand
that, it's easier for me to get excited by the earlier experimental
Also, with 'Persona' the experiment seems more subtle and complex than
in some of Bergman's other early work. The themes are right out in the
open but there's much less literalness in the questions. The whole FILM
is a series of questions, but posed in a poetic way - what is identity?
What is acting? What is film? What are the boundaries between people?
What is reality and what is a dream, both in this film, and in our own
This is a haunting deeply disturbing work, and part of it's very
effectiveness is it's 'unexplainability', ala '2001' or a Magritte
painting. Like a Koan, it forces you to try and make sense of something
that has no simple answer.
On first viewing there were a few times when things felt a little on
the nose, or my feeling of 'huh?' was the bad kind, not the good one.
But this is a fascinating film, that combines some of the most truly
dreamlike sequences I've ever seen with what seems a conventional
narrative, only to curve in on itself into obscurity yet again. It is
ultimately the kind of puzzle that art does best - it makes you ponder
things both consciously and subconsciously at the same time.
The two lead performances by Bibi Anderson and Liv Ullmann are
extraordinary, and Sven Nykvist again creates a series of unforgettable
images (now with the wider palate that Bergman started towards in 'The
Silence' - more camera moves, more 'cinematic' angles.).
But the nexus of this film, isn't the acting or the photography (though
the film would fail miserably without both being great), this is a film
about the inside of the filmmaker's mind, and by extension the inside
of all of our minds as we fight to make sense of the lives we lead.
It also has the single most erotic scene where nothing physical happens
I've ever encountered. And it's that kind of paradox that 'Persona' is
all about. I know I will get more from repeated viewings. The film begs
It's also impossible to note how many films since have borrowed its
techniques and images. Indeed, after the rare moments I felt
dismissively 'we've seen this idea before', I'd realize 'no we HADN'T
seen it before Bergman made this film'.