Friday, 10 March 2017

Persona (1966)

Fig 1 - Persona Poster

Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman, Persona is what could be described as an exploration into duality and the willingness to exist. A fundamentally uneasy watch with a hint of pretentious that, instead of alienating, actually elevates the viewing experience.

On the one hand, we have the central narrative. A nurse by the name of Alma (Bibi Andersson) is hired to take care of actress Elisabet Volger (Liv Ullmann) after suddenly falling mute of her own accord. The two spend their summer together at a remote beach house and, before long, appear to be 'merging' as the film progresses. On the other hand, the film is interjected with uncomfortable and seemingly irrelevant visuals at its opening and close, with what appears to be damage to the film-roll itself at its midpoint. Put together, all of this makes for quite a watch.

This certainly isn't a film that 'holds the viewers hand' but I believe it to be quite literal in its visual narrative, though I'm sure there are multiple ways to dissect the film. Even at face value, I think it would be too easy to say that schizophrenia is the answer to the films ending. I believe it is edited to display the inner conflicts of both characters and exhibit just how alike they really are. As a literal cue for Elisabet's silence - we are shown several moments in which she studies real-life footage of horrific events. Perhaps the darkness of mankind led her to this? Perhaps her grief over the unwanted child she reluctantly had. Either way, in Alma and Elisabet we are witnessing the light and dark parallels of existence.

Fig 2 - Persona Screenshot

The music by Lars Johan Werle is deliberately unsettling from the outset. Alongside the flashes of cinematography in the opening titles, there is a particularly chaotic blend of orchestral music which sets the tone for a somewhat maddening experience. As well as this, there are cues at which sudden 'jump-scare' piano keys send the scene crashing to a halt, which alongside the unnerving edits throughout made the film quite unpredictable overall.

Incidentally, Bibi Andersson gives a fantastic performance as Alma, who manages to show an exorbitant range whilst playing off an essentially silent co-star. In addition, Liv Ullman as Elisabet gives a particularly haunted performance. Visuals of the two quite literally merged on-screen felt almost overkill to me, though as an exploration into duality it could be forgiven as even Psycho is guilty of this. I feel that Persona is a very intriguing piece of work and inspires a many great ways of taking its message, one that I will likely dwell on for some time.



Fig. 1 Persona Poster (1966) From: Persona - Directed by: Ingmar Bergman

Fig. 2 Persona Screenshot (1966) From: Persona - Directed by: Ingmar Bergman

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