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  Persona If You Were Me And I Was You
Year: 1966
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Stars: Liv Ullman, Bibi Andersson, Margaretha Krook, Gunnar Björnstrand
Genre: Drama, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 2 votes)
Review: Nurse Alma (Bibi Andersson) has been called to the office of her superior with a new case to take care of. Alma prides herself on her medical professionalism, but when she hears about this woman she must look after, she can't help but wonder if she is the right person for the job, and maybe a more experienced nurse would be a better choice. The woman is Elisabeth Vogler (Liv Ullman), who is a famous actress suffering some kind of breakdown that leaves her mute: she was onstage performing in Electra before a packed house when she dried for over a minute, and this incident has triggered her troubles...

There are many who see Ingmar Bergman's Persona as a challenge, as if of all films this was the Everest to climb to discover its meaning at the summit, knowing that there are a great number who have tried to scale its cliffs and failed. No wonder it seemed such a daunting prospect back when it was first released, and it was a badge of courage to admit you had not only seen it, but had some idea of what it was about. Yet it was so vague in some ways and so specific in others that you could be forgiven for taking the whole thing as a confidence trick on the audience; not that Bergman was not sincere, but there was a definite games playing aspect to this.

Ask most who have seen it what Persona is about and they'll probably tell you it was depicting one woman's personality overhwelming another so they become all too similar, but even that begged the question whose personality was overwhelming whom. There's no doubt these questions of identity that the plot obsessively returns to have been influential, as it was all so original in its presentation and concepts that there are a plethora of filmmakers who picked up the ball and ran with it: you can see echoes of this in anything from Weekend through to Eraserhead (David Lynch's Mullholland Drive, too) to Single White Female to Fight Club and countless others. But was that influence beneficial?

Certainly Bergman was pushing at perceived boundaries, yet for many that simply rendered the work incomprehensible. That said, he didn't dawdle here, as the whole experience is over with in a tight eighty minutes or so, refreshing after decades of arthouse movies that tell you profundity is available to you at excessive length. Then there was the sexual element, as the film begins with a montage of imagery including an erect penis which looks like a joke, or it would if the mood were not so relentlessly downbeat. Even Alma's anecdote about her most powerful erotic experience is followed up with another, depressing one about her subsequent abortion and the guilt that resulted.

Ah, Alma, one of those people who cannot enjoy a silence without having to fill it, thereby giving Elisabeth the ammunition to stage a takeover bid on her personality. The more she chatters, the more the actress placidly listens, and the tone turns ominous as we wonder what she is going to do with all this information (share it in a letter, for example?). But Alma turns this lack of give and take into a battle when she deliberately by her inaction causes Elisabeth to cut her foot on a shard of broken glass, then turns violent when the pressure gets too much to bear. Really, you could take Persona as one of those tales where the hipster corrupts the square, only here it was not drugs or demeaning sex that are in the actress's arsenal, but the sheer hell of being alive and failing to communicate, the kind of breakdown between people (as opposed to within people) that sets off all sorts of horror. That said, no matter how powerful this film can be, you just have to look at the SCTV parody to ponder if it's not all a bit daft; you can't deny it's not weirdly provocative, however, even exhilarating.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Ingmar Bergman  (1918 - 2007)

Undoubtedly one of the greatest artists of cinema, Ingmar Bergman was often accused of being too depressing as his subjects covered the existence (or otherwise) of God and deep-seated marital problems (he himself was married five times), but he always approached them with a sympathetic eye. Among his most memorable films were Summer with Monika, Smiles of a Summer Night, The Seventh Seal (with its unforgettable chess game with Death), Wild Strawberries, The Virgin Spring (the inspiration for Last House on the Left), Through a Glass Darkly, The Silence, Persona, Hour of the Wolf, Cries and Whispers, Scenes from a Marriage and Fanny and Alexander. He also made international stars of Max von Sydow, Liv Ullman and Bibi Andersson.

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