85 Min. | Drama – Thriller | December 1966
IMDB Rating: 8.1
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Starring: Bibi Andersson, Liv Ullmann, Margaretha Krook
Persona may well be Ingmar Bergman’s most complex film-yet, like many Bergman films, the story it tells is superficially simple. Actress Elizabeth Volger has suddenly stopped speaking in what appears to be an effort to cease all communication with the external world. She is taken to a hospital, where nurse Alma is assigned to care for her. After some time, Elisabeth’s doctor feels the hospital is of little use to her, the doctor accordingly lends her seaside home to Elisabeth, who goes there with Alma in attendance. Although Elisabeth remains silent, the relationship between the women is a pleasant one-until a rainy day, too much alcohol, and Elisabeth’s silence drives Alma into a series of highly charged personal revelations.
It is at this point that Persona, which has already be super-saturated with complex visual imagery, begins to create an unnerving and deeply existential portrait of how we interpret others, how others interpret us, and the impact that these interpretations have upon both us and them. What at first seemed fond glances and friendly gestures from the silent Elisabeth are now suddenly open to different interpretations, and Alma-feeling increasingly trapped by the silence-enters into a series of confrontations with her patient, but these confrontations have a dreamlike quality, and it becomes impossible to know if they are real or imagined-and if imagined, in which of the women’s minds the fantasy occurs.
Bergman is exceptionally fortunate in his actresses here, both Liv Ullman as the silent Elisabeth and Bibi Anderson as the increasingly distraught Alma offer incredible performances that seem to encompass both what we know from the obvious surface and what we can never know that exists behind their individual masks. Ullman has been justly praised for the power of her silence in Persona, and it is difficult to imagine another actress who could carry off a role that must be performed entirely by ambiguous implications. As in many of his films, Bergman seems to be stating that we cannot know another person, and that our inability to do is our greatest tragedy. But however Persona is interpreted, it is a stunning and powerful achievement, one that will resonate with the viewer long after Persona ends.
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