1966. Directed by Ingmar Bergman.
One of the greatest films ever made, Persona is a psychological vortex that incorporates elements of horror and the surreal to present a complex narrative that confronts issues of motherhood, sexuality, and socially enforced female stereotypes.
A nurse is given the task of helping care for an actress who has suddenly become mute. The pair are given an ocean side cottage to assist with the actress's convalescence. What follows is a frightening examination of two women who seamlessly become one, each embodying different aspects of the female id and ego, leading to a breathtaking accusatory resolution.
The legendary Sven Nykvist commands the camera in a one of kind outing. Presented in black white, the visuals move from crisp to blurred in an instant, mimicking the emotional turbulence the two leads are experiencing. There are various scenes within the film where the camera "breaks" presenting a barrage of disturbing images, mirroring the karmic reckoning being experienced in the cottage. One of the most interesting visual characteristics is the use of close ups. There are a handful of monologues by the nurse that are told while focusing on the actress, allowing subtle psychosomatic responses to dictate what is real and what is fantasy.
Bibbi Anderson stars at the nurse, opposite Live Ulmann as the actress. These women both deliver gripping performances that are both sympathetic and revolting simultaneously. Loss is the central theme of Persona and both women fully commit to their consolatory roles with gusto. Motherhood is the binding fabric of Persona, the rejection of a woman's preordained status juxtaposed by the willingness to accept natural social order. This is heavy, fascinating material that clings to the viewer, subverting expectations with primordial vigor.
Bergman's script is amazing. Endlessly analyzed by film scholars, Persona remains one of the ultimate mysteries in cinema and its elusiveness is a testament to the genius behind it. Every word, object, and action matters and with each one sided exchange, the mystery seems to reveal itself, only to then retreat into the shadows of the subconscious with abrupt violence, shocking revelations, and Freudian imagery.
Ulla Rhyge's sound editing coupled with Lars Johan Warle's score are perfection. Sound is yet another key ingredient to Persona's mystique. Much like the visuals, every auditory offering is an essential piece of the soulful leviathan, signalling danger and cosmetic recompense in equal amounts.
Available now on Huluplus or on blu ray from the Criterion Collection, Persona is a must see film for anyone interested in the extremities of the medium. The phrase less is more cannot be overstated with Persona. Bergman's unparalleled genius is on full display (as always) with this genuine masterpiece. A mystery from the first devious frame, Persona will bewilder, haunt, and ultimately satisfy with it's cognizant deconstruction of feminism.
Highly. Highly. Recommend.