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The Films of Ingmar Bergman

Crisis

It Rains on Our Love

A Ship to India

Music in Darkness

Port of Call

Prison

Thirst

To Joy

This Can't Happen Here

Summer Interlude

Secrets of Women

Summer with Monika

Sawdust and Tinsel

A Lesson in Love

Dreams

Smiles of a Summer Night

The Seventh Seal

Wild Strawberries

Brink of Life

The Magician

The Virgin Spring

The Devil's Eye

Through a Glass Darkly

Winter Light

The Silence

All These Women

Persona (February 7/04)

Persona concerns a nurse (Bibi Andersson's Alma) who's been assigned the task of looking after Elisabet (Liv Ullman), an actress who has inexplicably stopped speaking. The two retreat to a remote seaside cottage, where Elisabet's doctor hopes the tranquil setting will encourage the woman to come out of her shell. While there, Alma talks incessantly about anything and everything - though she mostly chats about her life and the various choices she's made. Elisabet listens patiently, and in a bizarre turn of events that doesn't really make sense, Alma soon finds her own identity in question; her relentless talking has seemingly caused her to switch identities with Elisabet. It's an off-kilter twist that ultimately impedes one's enjoyment of the proceedings, yet writer/director Ingmar Bergman wisely doesn't let it dominate the story - up to a point. By the time the last 20 minutes roll around, the movie mutates into something that's just as incoherent as the subject matter might indicate - which is a shame, really, as Alma and Elisabet eventually become fully fleshed out and intriguing figures. And in the case of Elisabet, that's no small feat considering she barely speaks throughout the film. Ullman does a fantastic job of using only her face to create this character, and proves that it is indeed possible to give a compelling performance without saying a single word. Andersson is equally good as Alma, an outwardly well-adjusted woman who clearly has a lot of skeletons in her closet. Though she spends the majority of the movie complaining about something, Andersson nevertheless manages to turn Alma into more than just a whiner (which is more impressive than it sounds, given that she converses with Elisabet as though she were a shrink). Persona is also quite stunning on a visceral level, as Bergman (along with cinematographer Sven Nykvist) frames each sequence with just the sort of precision he's famous for. Bergman and Nykvist imbue the movie with a dreamy quality that's certainly assisted by the use of black and white photography. The relative lack of dialogue cements the ethereal nature of the story, though Bergman does eventually go too far in his pursuit of an otherworldly ambiance. As compelling as the characters are and as intriguing as the dialogue is, Bergman's eccentric tendencies wind up sabotaging his efforts to create a searing portrait of two vastly different women. Oddball moments (including the slaughter of an animal and a nail being driven into a hand) presumably represent the respective psyches of these characters, but they're more distracting than anything else. Persona works best during the more intimate sequences between Alma and Elisabet, and though it's never boring, the movie isn't quite able to become the powerful examination Bergman clearly wants it to be.

out of

Hour of the Wolf

Shame

The Rite

The Passion of Anna

The Touch

Cries & Whispers

Scenes from a Marriage

Face to Face

The Serpent's Egg

Autumn Sonata

From the Life of the Marionettes

Fanny and Alexander

After the Rehearsal

The Making of Fanny and Alexander

In the Presence of a Clown

Saraband

© David Nusair