Larry’s review published on Letterboxd:
The important thing is the effort, not what we achieve.
Swedish cinematic demigod Ingmar Bergman is a legend in both the world cinema sphere, and the rabid arthouse crowd, but you didn't need me to tell you that. Anyone who is moderately interested in film knows of Bergman and his works. I've been familiar with the man for years but shamefully, I am just now getting to his filmography.
Persona was my first Bergman film.
Yeah yeah yeah no need to feel embarrassed for me... I'm feeling enough of that on my end.
But I'm delighted to report that my first Bergman trip was an enlightening and humbling experience that reminded me why I love cinema. Film captures the complexity and beauty of life both on a large scale and small scale. Whether its the golden warm glow of the sands in the epic Lawrence of Arabia or the creation of the universe in Tree of Life, you always feel the sense of scope in a film and its a truly beautiful thing. Persona is different from those because its about 1000x smaller than those films but just as incredibly beautiful and thought provoking.
A surreal world bathed in black and white. A hazy sea cottage with shadow people drifting around in the night. Characters with half their faces concealed in shadows but the glint of their eyes still shining through. Two souls locked in a friendly embrace. A bleak prelude with rapid images of spiders, silent film reels and mutilation. This is Bergman's cerebral projections immortalized on film. My first viewing turned out to be a pretty crazy and hypnotizing experience, and while it wasn't an utterly flawless and untouchable film in my eyes, I can't help but see that opinion changing in the near future on subsequent revisitings. This will be a film I will probably continue to figure out and evolve with until I die. Another film I got a similar strong vibe from was Stalker. Like that film, Persona is a highly ambiguous film that operates on a finely tuned machine fueled by intellectual and artistic virtuoso. Persona is an incredibly well choreographed and synchronized film. Every movement, every shot, every spoken word, every chord is almost angelic and holy in its simplicity and minimalistic beauty. The plot (which for a film like this actually starts pretty strong and pretty interesting) may start to disappear as the film goes on and its starts to submerge itself into some light areas of pretension, you never feel like the film is standing on your shoulders or looking down on you. Its entirely human and just like all humans, it isn't afraid to poke around in our minds and discuss our sins.
Persona is a film is about identity, voice, spirituality and the mind. A nurse is assigned to care for an actress who has lost her will to talk; they think she may be unstable in a way, and the two embark on a rather strange journey. The nurse, Alma, is played spectacularly by Bibi Anderson and as she cares for the poor Elisabeth, she begins to meld minds with the young actress. She begins absorbing her personality, and sometimes even her name. She begins speaking for the actress Elisabeth and develops a very strange affection, trust, and possession of her. Eventually they kind of blend together and often times you can't tell one from the other. There are frequent shots of their faces meshing and their faces being obstructed by shadows or other objects. There is also a visual theme of halves, or doubles on display. There was a particular shot of a reflection on a lake that made me rewind, and just pause it for a few seconds to take it all in.
The two women's relationship in Persona is the driving force here, so even when its not moving very quickly, the strange relationship always keeps it trucking along. So what does it all mean? Well, there is no easy, definitive answer, so I'm left to go back on what I said earlier. The film never feels above you or looking down. Your thoughts on the film are your own and that's the point. I was drawn to how quickly everyone seemed to be when diagnosing the actress. We always tend to speak for, or account for the people who don't have a voice of their own. We assimilate their problems into our own and we are always quick to dismiss them as the ones that are wrong. The nurse Alma seems to blur the line between nurse and patient. She seems to be more crazy than Elisabeth and at times i even contemplated viewing the film from the perspective of her mind. Maybe she was the actual patient? Maybe Elisabeth was a figment of her imagination? Maybe Alma was in some kind of surreal fever dream recovery phase and this was all just the inner workings of her mind. Maybe this is an in depth look at the subconscious levels of a split personality? Or a cerebral match between two connected souls in the vein of The Double Life of Veronique.?
Maybe this? Maybe that? Maybe...
All I know is that Persona was a very beautiful and hauntingly human study of body and soul. Its an enigma but doesn't mock you for your puzzlement, but instead gives you plenty reason to dive in for more. I can't wait to revisit this in time.
But for now there is a lot more Bergman to watch. I had a lot of "firsts" this year when it comes to watching films. This one is a sure standout.
Alma can take care of me any day...