Persona is a 1966 Swedish film directed by Ingmar Bergman and starring Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann. Persona may be Ingmar Bergman’s most consciously crafted film; it may also be one of his most enigmatic.
Bergman held this film to be one of his most important. In his book Images, he writes: “Today I feel that in Persona—and later in Cries and Whispers—I had gone as far as I could go. And that in these two instances when working in total freedom, I touched wordless secrets that only the cinema can discover.” He also said: “At some time or other, I said that Persona saved my life—that is no exaggeration. If I had not found the strength to make that film, I would probably have been all washed up. One significant point: for the first time I did not care in the least whether the result would be a commercial success
Persona is considered one of the major works of the 20th century by essayists and critics such as Susan Sontag, who referred to it as Bergman’s masterpiece. Other critics have described it as “one of this century’s great works of art”. In Sight and Sound’s 1972 poll of the ten greatest films of all time, Persona was ranked at number five. In the 2012 British Film Institute list of The Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time, Persona is tied at 17 with Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai.”
Tracing my love for foreign, artistic & increased many folds watching ‘Persona’. I was awestruck from the initial montage. It seems a perfect choice for my first note on my epic journey of World Cinema
Bergman has made a great number of influential, complex and beautiful films, but Persona stands among the most singular of his works. It concerns Elizabeth Vogler (the incomparable Liv Ullman), a stage actress who suddenly turns mute during a performance. She is committed to a hospital, where a nurse named Alma (Bibi Andersson) is put in charge of her. When they are sent away for a respite at a secluded summer house by the beach, Alma confides all her cares and fears to Elizabeth and their identities become blurred.
No film so systematically reflects the psychoanalytical encounter, although many films of lesser intensity (such as Hitchcock’s Spellbound or Bergman’s own Face to Face) attempt it more directly; perhaps no other film offers as many decoys to hide its psychoanalytical core. The very clues that would engage the viewer in trying to sort out what is real and what is imagined by the two women are distractions from its profound concern.
If philosophical musings aren’t your cup of tea, then the film can simply be experienced passively as a work of art. The cinematography of frequent collaborator Sven Nykvist is breathtakingly beautiful; he captures every expression on the actress’s faces perfectly and composes each frame with the skill of a master artist. The lighting at once seems natural and dreamlike. There is a particular notable scene near the beginning of the film where Elizabeth’s face as she lays on her bed slowly darkens as light leaves the room. The shot is both beautiful and terrifying.
Bergman has a knack of coaxing the best possible performances from his cast and this skill is displayed to its full power here. Alma seems completely open, innocent and full of vitality. As the film climaxes however, we witness a venomous, grudging side of her. Bibi Andersson plays both of these parts perfectly; exposing an almost childish naivety with animalistic reactions to hurt and betrayal. Liv Ullman is silent for almost the whole film, but gets across more emotions than most could dream of with just her face.
Persona is a film which has remained a favorite of mine and one which I take something new from every time I watch it. If you like your films dense, beautiful and moody, I urge you to watch it.
- Screenplay-Direction & Producer: Ingmar Bergman
- Photography: Sven Nykvist
- Editor: Ulla Ryghe
- Sound engineer: P. O. Pettersson
- Music: Lars-Johan Werle
- Special effects: Evald Andersson
- Costume design: Mago
- Cast: Bibi Andersson ( Alam ); Liv Ullmann ( Elisabeth Vogler ); Margaretha Krook ( Läkaren ); Gunner Björnstrand ( Herr Vogler ) & Jörgen Lindström ( The boy ).