Wednesday, 16 November 2016

I've Just Seen: Persona (1966)

Director: Ingmar Bergman

I approach films that appear at the top of 'must-see' lists warily, worried that this 'great' film won't be as great as claimed; at least in my opinion. In the case of Persona this was heightened by the long wait I had to see it. Quickflix said they had the disc, but it sat in the dreaded 'long wait' part of my queue, then was moved to the even worse 'reserve,' which means they may get around to getting another copy some day (but don't hold your breath). Then suddenly the film appeared on a local free streaming site, with only a few days to watch it. After several tries it finally loaded.

Was it worth the wait?

It had been a while since I had seen a film that captured everything I love about film. Persona plays not only with ideas of identity and performance, but even the fact that this is a film, with the famous shot of the film itself appearing to burn up, and the film stumbling to find where it was. This is a film that provokes thought as you try to figure out what is going on, and yet really defies being boiled down into words. It's meaning is slippery, as it constantly reminds us that everything we are seeing is a performance, that the characters of the characters are just personas they had adopted, not real, actual persons.

I've recently been thinking about films shot in black-and-white that would be completely different (and not work as well) in colour. Persona certainly falls into this group. The greyness on the screen makes the melding of Alma and Elisabet's characters more acute, particularly as when a split screen momentarily splices them together.

Trust one of the greats, Bergman, to reignite my love for film, just when I felt I had seen the absolute best film had to offer. Persona moves past Bergman's existential interest in religion, which features heavily in his 1950s movies, into questioning our very sense of self and our projections of those beliefs.


  1. Persona is one of those movies that bears repeat watching. There's a lot going on here, and a lot of commentary on the nature of film and art within the context of the movie. That's pretty cool, and something I love about it.

    1. I agree. I am sure some would find this too arty, but I loved its mysteriousness and its reflections on performance. I also liked that the camera's closeness to the two actors wasn't about their beauty, but about reading their emotions, and asking us to notice similarities and differences between them.

      The best films are the ones that teach you something new about film, and this certainly does.

  2. I guess this was a bit too opaque for me. I got some of the themes, but not ultimately the need for the movie. It was moving to a place I could not follow, intriguing as it looked.

    1. I think it is a film that you have to be in the right headspace for - and often that is not something you an just make happen. There's films I watched that considered great, and I've just sat there thinking "really?". Vertigo was one of those; but when I rewatched it, I got why it is so revered.

      Not that you have to rewatch this - it is certainly a slippery film, and one that threatens to slip into meaninglessness at any moment. I understand its not going to work for everyone.