Persona ★★★★½

I'm way behind on this year's DVD Talk Criterion Challenge; hell, I'm even behind on writing up my Letterboxd diary entries for the handful of movies I've managed to squeeze in before month's end. Consequently, these diary entries are likely to be more cursory than I typically prefer.

I was mesmerized by Persona when I streamed it a few years ago, so I finally splurged during Barnes and Noble's most recent Criterion sale for its Blu-ray release. This time through, I suppose the only thing I was conscious of that was different from my first viewing is that I've since read Liv Ullmann's memoir, Changing, so when I saw the exterior shots on the beach, I was mindful of what the production meant to her at the time. I found that added a bittersweet feeling to this viewing.

I confess to being somewhat disappointed by the supplemental content here. Most of the individual pieces are satisfying, but the sum of their parts feels lacking somehow. Still, the film itself is captivating. It's the only Bergman film I've seen twice, and also the only one I own, which should say something to those who've endured my gushing over his movies in previous discussions.

Persona's Prologue: A Poem in Images (20:16) ****
This 20 minute featurette spells out quite a lot, and I don't know whether I would have benefited from watching it when I first saw the film a few years ago or if it's better that I simply didn't know what the hell was going on until now.

The funny thing is that Ingmar Bergman himself disdained the gimmickry of the French New Wave, particularly Jean-Luc Godard, who he calls out by name in the interviews included elsewhere in this Blu-ray Disc release. Yet it's what I finally began to understand about the ways in which film can be played with by Godard that allowed me to finally come to understand Bergman's own opening to Persona.

I couldn't have appreciated what Bergman did here until I got what it was he was reacting to, which was the French New Wave. Initially, I just shook my head and chalked it up to Bergman going down the rabbit hole. Now, I see that, as this "visual essay" argues, what he was actually doing was to concede from the very first frame that this is, in fact, a movie. The difference is that where, say, Godard would build his storytelling around his movie being self-aware that it's a movie, Bergman is merely letting us know that we're watching a film which has been crafted by a filmmaker.

That is, nowhere in the film are we given any indication that the characters realize there's a fourth wall; there's no winking at us, no meta-level references, no teasing us by taking us out of the movie for a gag, etc. And yet by opening with imagery that exists exclusively (or at least primarily) in the realm of cinema, Bergman has prefaced his story by saying, "This is not a play, or a novel, or a sonnet, or an opera, or a sculpture, etc. This is a movie."

Interviews (54:50) ****
There are four interview clips included here; one with Bibi Andersson, Ingmar Bergman, and Liv Ullmann conducted in promotion of the film's release in 1966; one of Bergman in 1970; and then one of Ullmann and one with critic Paul Schrader, both recorded in 2013 for this Criterion release. They're entertaining and interesting enough if you're the type of person to find such things entertaining or interesting at all, but there's nothing so terrific that I would consider any of the four must-see content for either casual or dedicated viewers.

[Gem from the 1970 interview, though: "I'd much rather see Goldfinger than an Antioni film. I can't help it. That's simply how it is."]

On-Set Footage (18:06) ****
This is a sort of behind-the-scenes documentary stitched together from footage taken throughout the production of the film, narrated by Birgitta Steene. Maybe it's because my feeling for Bergman in general and Persona in particular is of reverence, but I was captivated to see how "ordinary" a lot of the production was relative to the looks behind the scenes of other films I've seen. Plus, no matter what they're doing, there's just no getting around how mesmerizing Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann were/are!

Liv & Ingmar ***
Feature documentary, which I'll review in its own Letterboxd diary entry.

Trailer (2:43) **
Whoever cut this trailer either misunderstood or deliberately misrepresented the film's actual tone, presenting it here as a sort of highbrow sexploitation film. I understand the need to put butts in seats, particularly before the advent of home video, but at what point were theaters alienating the very niche group of viewers who took bait like that and then discovered the film wasn't nearly what they thought it was going to be?

The audio-visual supplements may have been mostly average, but the print booklet is every bit the gem that one would expect from Criterion. The photographs are rich and striking, and the pieces (an essay by Thomas Elsaesser about the film's prologue, an interview with Bergman, and one with Bibi Andersson about Bergman) are insightful about film and filmmaker alike. My only complaint is that the package is designed so that the booklet doesn't actually connect to, or fit into, anything else. I don't know how practical it might be, but Criterion seems like the perfect distributor to issue DigiBook editions of their discs.

Persona Re-Ranked on My Flickchart (#50/1692)

Persona > Kronk's New Groove → #50
Persona > Anjelah Johnson: That's How We Do It → #50
Persona > Groundhog Day → #50
Persona > Jaws → #50
Persona > Licence to Kill → #50
Persona > Certified Copy → #26
Persona < Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country → #26
Persona < Bull Durham → #26
Persona < The Princess Bride → #26
Persona < The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance → #26

Persona was re-ranked on my Flickchart to #26/1692