Shot of a penis ten seconds in, this is gonna be my kind of film!
Story By: Ingmar Bergman
Directed By: Ingmar Bergman
The allure is to finish Persona and immediately begin dissecting the meta and sub-textual aspects of film. I could do that, there is a very large part of my being that wants to spend this entire review doing just that. I’m not going to dissect Persona’s sub-textual elements, instead I’m going to focus on the filmmaking choices of Ingmar Bergman. Believe you me, I’m a huge fan of dissecting the subtext of any film, and I have done this and will continue to do so with Persona. But not here in this review, nope, this review is going to focus on the ways in which Herr Bergman nearly floored me with the directorial prowess he chose to display in Persona.
For me, Persona begins with the way that the images are constructed. They build the themes, enhance them, and ultimately allow the thematic content of the film to play out. There’s a lot of doubling that takes place in Persona. What I mean by that is that there are many scenes where we see two characters near one another, one in the foreground and one in the background. The way the characters are filmed is so that they line up so that it looks like they are melding into one person. This is a major theme of the film, and it’s an idea that the visuals convey time and time again throughout the film.
There’s also the sparse nature of the sets to consider. By keeping the locales we spend time in unadorned Herr Bergman keeps the focus on his actors and on the visuals. From what I could gather if a character doesn’t interact with an item then it’s not shown. So, there could be a recliner in that summer house, but because neither actress sits down on a recliner we aren’t given a visual of a recliner. The effect the sparseness had on me was to create an empty space. That empty visual space is filled by the thematic content of the film. The film itself isn’t empty, rather it uses empty space to fill up the film with voluminous amounts of thematic content.
I hesitate to say that Herr Bergman trusts his actresses and that’s why he allows them to be the bulk of the film. Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann give splendid performances, but it’s the pushing and prodding of Herr Bergman that puts them over the edge of splendid and into great. He’s never physically on camera, but the specter of Herr Bergman is in every moment of the film. When the characters are talking in the direction of the camera I interpreted that as them yelling and screaming at the man behind the camera who was pushing them so hard.
Persona is regarded as a masterpiece, and it deserves that reputation. It’s neither my favorite nor the best I’ve seen from Ingmar Bergman, but it is a master level work that is worthy of all the praise it has received over the years. This isn’t an easy film to watch, Persona asks a lot of its audience in terms of attention and internal tolerance. The scene that best sums up Persona for me is a long shot of Frau Ullmann’s face. The camera lingers on her face, stays with her even as the lighting in the background changes to a darker shade. I wanted the camera to pull away, the intensity of the image was too much for me to bear. Herr Bergman refuses to pull away, he will not give himself or his audience an escape route. Persona is a soul laid bare, it’s a hellish, but immensely rewarding viewing experience.