Persona (1966)

I’ve found an online source for almost all of Ingmar Bergman’s films, so at some point in the future I will be covering the rest of that oeuvre here, but since this was on SBS2 tonight I decided I may as well cover it now… This was, I think, my third viewing of Persona, and it was about as unsatisfying an experience as my previous efforts with it. I seem to often use the phrase “admire rather than love”, or some variant thereupon, and this is certainly one of the more extreme examples of what I mean by that; I can look at it as I did tonight, I can recognise that it does constitute a certain achievement, and I can do this without actually liking, let alone loving, the damn thing. As Bergman’s “chamber dramas” go, this is about as “chamberish” as it gets, with only two main characters—a nurse (Bibi Andersson) looking after an actress (Liv Ullmann) who’s gone more or less catatonic after some sort of never really explained breakdown—and a handful of minor characters who barely really figure. Andersson must have about 90% of the dialogue in the film, and she really is remarkable in the film because it’s not exactly easy stuff… least of all the quite amazing beach sex monologue. And I think the narrative is actually reasonably clear; in dealing with the mute woman, the nurse’s own hitherto buried emotional problems are brought nearer the surface (I think the usual guff about “personality transference” is overstated). But there’s something hugely unappealing about the presentation of this material, and something that feels frankly forced about its “avant-gardeness”, if that’s what you want to call the prologue business and other bits like that. It’s that prologue in particular which makes the film feel—to me at least—more like a parody of a mid-60s European art film than anything else, or as if Bergman somehow didn’t quite have the courage to go properly “out there” or something.

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