Director: Ingmar Bergman
Writer: Ingmar Bergman
Actors: Bibi Andersson, Liv Ullmann, Margaretha Krook
I started my journey with films back in 2010. Obviously back then I did not know much, and I am still learning to this day. However, back then, I had nothing to go on, and didn't know why certain films were considered "great". All I did was go to lists and try to watch the films that everyone was saying is good. I remember back in 2010 or 2011 I watched Bergman's "The Seventh Seal" (1957). After watching it, I did not know why it was considered good, or what made it a classic. However, I promised myself that one day I will get back to Bergman after I have learned more about film. Well, its been almost 8 years and I felt confident enough to watch something by him again. The reason I chose Persona is literally because of the first scene with the kid on the bed. I was just checking to see the footage quality and saw that shot, and I knew I wanted to watch this film. What happened in the next hour and a half was something I will never forget. If you enjoy surrealist films that elicit a strange emotion, then stop reading this review and watch the film. If you saw my score at the bottom you will know why.
Persona revolves around two women, a naiive nurse and a mute actress. Alma, the nurse, has been assigned to treat Elisabet, an actress who has suddenly decided not to talk. Her mental and physical health seem normal, so no one knows why she has suddenly decided to stop talking. Nevertheless the plot starts to kick in when The Doctor suggests Alma take Elisabet to her summer house by the beach in order to get her out of the constricting environment of the hospital. When they arrive at the summer house you can see the film and the characters start to develop very quickly. Alma, who is a very quiet and naiive nurse has never been able to fully express herself. She seems like the person who always keeps to herself. Now, she is in the presence of a woman who is refusing to talk. Ironically that woman is an actress who is used to people hearing what she has to say and what she expresses. So each character has now taken on the "persona" of the other. The actress is now sort of like the nurse, becoming somewhat of a carer by listening to what Alma has to say. At first the conversations are tame, and they don't amount to much. However, that quickly changes as Alma begins to feel more comfortable around Elisabet. She starts revealing very personal incidents in her life. The big story was when she told her about the time she cheated on her husband and subsequently went to have an abortion. This entire scene was so overwhelming to watch. Overwhelming is a point that I will get back to later, but for now, this entire dialogue gave me that feeling. Maybe it was the way it was shot or the way she was talking about it. It all came in and hit me like a truck. After that night things changed, and it kicks the film into its second act.
Before delving into the second act, I want to talk about the very beginning. The film starts with a couple of seemingly random scenes that have nothing to do with the actual film. However, from my interpretation they have everything to do with the film. At the beginning we see flashes of images, and afterwards we see a child on a flat surface laying down. He gets up and stares at a screen, which we the audience can tell that it is a woman, but we don't know who it exactly is since it is blurry. After that the film begins. I can't thoroughly analyze this film with the first viewing, but I feeling like the child indicates Alma's aborted fetus. However, I don't really know where to go with that theory since I don't have much to go one with one viewing. Nevertheless, back to the plot. After revealing that information to Elisabet, life seemingly moves on as normal. Until the big turning point in the film, when Elisabet writes a letter to her doctor that she asks Alma to deliver. Alma's curiousity gets the best of her and she ultimately reads it. Which to her surprise, she finds out that Elisabet revealed the personal story to The Doctor and also talks about Alma as sort of a test subject. As if she is trying to learn certain things about people to help her acting in the future. Obviously she gets mad and then we get the broken glass scene. This is the major turning point in the film since the "personas" will now switch again. This is why we get the distorted imagery and again a lot of the surrealist clips and image flashes we saw at the beginning. This signals the turning point and the subsequent downfall of the relationship.
What happens after the distortion is again, very overwhelming. I keep using this word because it is the best word I can use to describe the feeling this film gave me. It was such a strange experience, and one that I will never forget. The fallout happens after revealing she read the letter then many strange things happen in the film. The strangest being when Alma, goes into Elisabet's room while she is sleeping, then Elisabet's husband arrives. He thinks that Alma is his wife for some reason, even though Elisabet is standing right there. This whole sequence felt odd, which is why the only reason I could begin to explain it was that it was a dream. The way that it all happened at night, it had sort of this dreamlike sense to it. Again, I can't really confirm this theory since I only watched the film once. Hopefully with multiple viewings these scenes will become more clear. Anyway, now comes what I can only describe as, the most unique dialogue scene I have ever seen. This scene, is just incredibly executed and so unique. I have seen so many films in my life, however I have never seen something quite like this. The scene starts out with the camera focusing on Elisabet as Alma talks. She is talking about Elisabet, sort of an analysis of her personality and the reason for her neglecting her child. The whole scene is in one take, and you only see Elisabet. Here we see her reacting with a multitude of emotions. She is sad, in shock, confused, and many more throughout the whole conversation. Now, here is what the film does that is so unique. After Alma finishes, the film doesn't move on, it cuts to a shot of Alma as she says the whole thing over again. She isn't repeating herself, its just we are now seeing Alma as she gave the speech and how she is. I have never seen this done in a film and it just made so much sense with regards to what the film was going for. Alma, unlike Elisabet is calm and collected throughout her speech and she doesn't display any emotion. This scene is the most important in the entire film in my opinion, because here we get the actual "personas" of each character. As the second take finishes, both of their faces meld into one, which again overwhelmed me. Furthermore, both of them are wearing the exact same clothes throughout this scene which might indicate something, but again, I can't be sure with one viewing. Nevertheless, this scene was just incredible, and I have never seen anything like this in my entire life.
Now that I have sort of dissected most of the film. To be frank I can go on and on about every little detail, but that would make this review over 20 pages long. I want to focus now on the feeling that this film gave me. As you know I have been repeating the word "overwhelming" over and over again throughout this review. My favorite thing about films is when one is able to elicit a feeling or emotion that I have never felt before. It is the tipping point between a brilliant film, and a perfect film for me. This film gave me this feeling of being overwhelmed. Everything about it just made me feel this sensation of being hit by so many emotions and feelings. Due to me being invested in the characters, everything they went through just affected me so much. This is also coupled with the fact that the film is riddled with so many details that have a much deeper meaning. All of these aspects are just constantly being thrown at you, that once I was done with this film, I had to take a breather. I just laid on my bed trying to deflate after that whole experience. Me typing this review is bringing back those feelings and I've had to take multiple breaks while writing. Obviously not every person who watches this film will have this experience. But personally, I just felt every bit of detail and emotion that the film gave out and it just came at me like a huge wave that buried me instantly. The weird thing is, I loved every second of it.
Before concluding this review, I want to take the time to talk about some of the technical aspects of this film. Because not only does this film excel in its plot, it basically excels in ever other aspect. First of all, the camera work is absolutely stunning. I have nothing bad to say about this aspect of the film. Every shot was perfect. One of the most memorable shots was following Alma as she is running to Elisabet trying to apologize for getting mad at her. The whole sequence was so beautiful to watch, and was all done in one take. Another aspect I loved about the film was the lighting. I think it was the perfect choice to have this film be in Black and White. It added so much to the overall tone that the director was going for. This coupled with the brilliant lighting and beautiful camera work made this film an incredible visual experience. Finally, I want to talk about the acting. Both Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann did a wonderful job with their roles. Liv was able to show so much emotion even though she was limited by the fact that she wasn't able to say a word. Bibi as well was incredible as Alma, the way she carried her conversations was so mesmerizing, and it was one of the main contributing factors for the effectiveness of this film. All in all, in terms of the technical aspects, this film ticks every single box.
What makes a perfect film? Naturally a perfect film is one that would execute every aspect flawlessly. The acting, cinematography, soundtrack...etc all have to blend in to create a perfect film. However, personally that doesn't make a film perfect in my eyes. For me, I also require a film to have something extra. That extra something is an experience that I have never felt before, or a strange emotion the film managed to elicit. To me, a film is a 10 when it is able to flawlessly execute the technical aspects, along with providing me with that unique experience. For example, There Will Be Blood, a 10 in my opinion, gave me an experience of tension that I have never felt in my entire life. Another film, Secret Sunshine, made me feel "uncomfortable" throughout, which I had never experienced. There are a few more films but I won't get into all of them. I am happy to say that after 3 years of not watching a 10, Persona (1966) enters that elite club of films. It did everything flawlessly along with giving me an experience that I will never forget. And that's why it is a perfect film.