Drama / Thriller

Rotten Tomatoes Critics - Certified Fresh 90%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience - Upright 94%
IMDb Rating 8.1 10 84843


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Movie Reviews

Reviewed by G_a_l_i_n_a 10 / 10

'The human face is the great subject of the cinema. Everything is there'

When talking of Bergman, critics and viewers usually name Wild Strawberries, The Seventh Seal, Cries and Whispers ahead of Persona. While those films are all amazing and stay very high on my list of all time favorites, for me, the truly unique and inspirational s 'Persona' - Bergman's enigmatic masterpiece.

The story is seemingly simple:

"A nurse, Alma (Bibi Andersson), has been assigned to care for a famous actress, Elizabeth (Liv Ullman), who suddenly stopped speaking during a performance of Electra and has remained silent ever since. When they go to stay in a seaside house owned by Alma's psychiatrist colleague, the apparently self-confident nurse gradually reveals more and more of herself in the face of Elizabeth's silence, and is shocked to read a letter the actress has written implying that Alma is an interesting case-study. The two women seem almost to exchange identities, or to become one (strikingly expressed visually in a famous shot); in a dream sequence (or perhaps fantasy), Elizabeth's husband comes to visit and seems to think that Alma is his wife. Finally Alma, back in her nurse's uniform, catches a bus to go home, leaving the almost-mute Elizabeth alone."

Whether Alma was able to get her identity back remains one of the film's many questions.

What is absolutely wonderful in the film – performances from two actresses. Anderson is the one who has to carry almost the entire dialog, her voice is one of the film's priceless treasures while Ullman is equally powerful in expressing hundreds of emotions through her face and eyes. Sven Nykvist's camera, the third star of the film makes two stars shine so bright.

Each scene in 81 minutes long film is memorable, some of them just unforgettable. For instance, the long scene where Alma reveals her most intimate memories of a sexual encounter with two boys while sunbathing nude with another girl on an empty beach, is infinitely more erotic to listen to than it would have been to see in flashback.

There is so much to think about in Persona. One major question concerns Elizabeth's silence: is it elective, as happens in Tarkovsky's "Andrei Rublyov" , or is it some kind of mental breakdown?. The documentaries about the war horrors that Elizabeth watches on TV suggest the former; the fact that it suddenly happens during a stage performance of "Electra" suggests the latter. I keep thinking about it. Why "Electra" of all plays? The story of the daughter who hated her mother and wanted her dead – does it reflect the accusation brought up by Alma that Elizabeth did not love her deformed son and wanted him dead? Did Elizabeth become so overwhelmed by guilt realizing that her life reminded so much of Electra's story? We don't know for sure, and Bergman does not help. The identical monologue in which Alma is accusing Elizabeth is the film's resolution. We hear it twice: first time, camera is concentrating on Elizabeth's face, second time – on Alma's. Is Alma talking about Elizabeth or herself or both? After that encounter on the beach, Alma became pregnant and had an abortion. The monologue may reflect her feelings of guilt and emptiness as well as Elizabeth's. Does it really happen?

Is Elizabeth a vampire sucking the life out of her victims only to use them as characters for her acting roles? Is that the ultimate price the artist is paying for being a great artist? Does he need lives and souls of others to be able to create? Can he/she love the ones who utterly depend on them and need their love? This film and later Autumn Sonata (1978) with Ingrid Bergman as a concert pianist show famous stars as selfish women who can't and don't love their children. The same question was brought up also in the earlier "Through a Glass Darkly (1961)" - in the relationship of the writer and his daughter.

Then there is the question of whether there are really two women at all; could the whole film be played out as a fantasy of one of them, or indeed of somebody else? Is there a sexual attraction between the two women? It might be or might be not. I believe, David Lynch has watched "Persona" very carefully, thought about it and used some of its ideas in his own "Mullholland Dr."

There are so many questions in this incredible film that are left unanswered. For almost forty years, viewers and filmmakers alike have been trying to find the answers. One thing is obvious – this is one of the films you want to watch over and over again. I think it should be seen by any viewer. If you've seen it already – see it again. You'll learn something new. If you have not seen it – you are in for a great experience. See it for Sven Nykvist's camera work, for Liv's face, for Bibi's voice, for the unique and mysterious world that is Ingmar Bergman's universe.

Reviewed by gftbiloxi 10 / 10

A Masterpiece

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 the film, 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.

Ultimately, Bergman seems to be creating a situation in which we are forced to acknowledge that a great deal of what we believe we know about others rests largely upon what we ourselves project upon them. Elisabeth's face and its expressions become akin to a blank screen on which we see our own hopes, dreams, torments, and tragedies projected--while the person behind the face constantly eludes our understanding. In this respect, the theme is remarkably well-suited to its medium: the blankness of the cinema screen with its flickering, endless shifting images that can be interpreted in infinite ways.

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 this film, and it is difficult to imagine another actress who could carry off a role that must be performed entirely by ambiguous implications. Anderson is likewise remarkable, her increasing levels of emotional distress resounding like the waves upon the rocks at their seaside retreat. And Bergman and his celebrated cinematographer Sven Nykvist fill the screen with a dreamlike quality that is constantly interrupted by unexpected images ranging from glimpses of silent films to a moment at which the celluloid appears to burn to images that merge Ullman and Anderson's faces into one.

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 the film is interpreted, it is a stunning and powerful achievement, one that will resonate with the viewer long after the film ends.

Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer

Reviewed by nycritic 10 / 10

Who Am I?

When I viewed PERSONA recently, I didn't know what exactly to make of it: what was it telling me, what was its intentions, its ultimate meaning. Not being a conventional director by far, I felt that Bergman had deliberately left all this 81 minute of storytelling to me to figure out... and I may have been right, but I either wasn't getting it or this was too much of an abstract film to merit any analysis, so my review was at face value and even ended with the sentence "this is exactly how Bergman wants it." Seeing it later more emerges, and the deeper story takes place even if it still seems linear: Elisabeth Vogler (Liv Ullmann) loses her speech midway through Electra and will not speak again (except once throughout the entire film, and in an imagined sequence). There is no apparent reason as to why she has lost her speech, and the only hint is the horror she witnesses on the television as war, genocide, and destruction rage on. Other than that it is never alluded to, her muteness.

Into the picture comes Alma (Bibi Andersson), the nurse who is put to her care by the suggestion of a psychiatrist. Both retreat to an isolated home. Seeing that Elisabeth will not talk, Alma fills space and time with her own erratic ramblings that take shape and form, a need to fill a void, and that void is of course, Elisabeth, who listens and listens and listens impassively yet with interest. Alma's stories are a form of confession: if Elisabeth is the mute who bears the scars of the world, Alma is the conveyor who purges inner traumas and erotic experiences, hurtful on a lesser scale. The fact she has been laid so naked to the woman she is trying to rehabilitate and the fact she learns this very woman considers her an interesting subject suddenly shocks her: from being caring, she turns vindictive. A shard of glass left deliberately to have Elisabeth step over is the catalyst: the images break, abstract images take place again, and the story re-starts. But one wonders, what if Elisabeth stepped over the glass with equal deliberateness? After all, she does need Alma. And she is an actress foremost. This moment is the one that amps up the tension between the women and even then they become closer, so close Elisabeth's husband thinks Alma is her as Elisabeth quietly allows this to happen. Is Elisabeth re-living some form of event through Alma? Is Alma the only way another secret involving Elisabeth's child can come through? Whatever the reason, Alma is clearly a conduit for Elisabeth to come forth and the merging of their similar faces is the culmination of this haunting psycho-drama that goes beyond its cinematic boundaries. No clear resolutions except the almost casual references that explain both women's return to their own sense of normalcy, but this somehow inconclusive ending is what gives it the weight of a great story and excellent Bergman. Reality here is what is so common to us: who we see ourselves as, how others see us, how self-identification becomes self-preservation through the experiences of others, good or bad or a combination of both. Pain and ecstasy are a part of our make-up, and PERSONA is the best example of the merging of the two.

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