Combustible Celluloid
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With: Bibi Andersson, Liv Ullmann, Margaretha Krook, Gunnar Bjšrnstrand
Written by: Ingmar Bergman
Directed by: Ingmar Bergman
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: Swedish with English subtitles
Running Time: 83
Date: 10/18/1966

Persona (1966)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Who Am I?

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Ingmar Bergman's most actively astonishing film, Persona (1966), is also his hardest to pin down. After a prologue of seemingly random images, ranging from the confusing to the disturbing, we begin the story of an actress (Liv Ullmann) who suddenly stops speaking while onstage. She's entrusted to the care of a young, beautiful nurse (Bibi Andersson) and sent to a remote seaside cottage to recover. While there, the nurse begins opening up and spilling her soul to the actress, eventually becoming frustrated and finally winning the upper hand in an intensely psychological power struggle.

In one scene, Andersson describes a sexual encounter between herself, a girlfriend, and two men on a beach, and it's so vivid you might imagine you've seen it played out. Bergman continually reminds us that we're watching a film by inserting phony "broken" splices and such. He also plays upon the fact that the two women look very much alike by pushing them together in his shots, overlapping their faces and even superimposing one over the other.

One clue may lie in the young boy who rises from a table and looks directly into the camera. Bergman then cuts to his point of view and we see a giant blurry face watching him. Could it be us, the viewers, entering this fierce and bizarre contest of wills? Regardless, Persona is one of Bergman's greatest works and an absolute must-see.

MGM's 2004 Persona DVD comes with a featurette, interviews with Ullmann and Andersson, an audio commentary track by Bergman's American biographer Marc Gervais, a photo gallery (with some of the most striking stills ever shot on any movie set) and the theatrical trailer.

In 2014, the Criterion Collection released an essential Blu-ray/DVD combo set, featuring a newly remastered 2K edition of the film, with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack. There are new interviews and archival interviews with the cast and crew (and director Paul Schrader), a visual essay by Peter Cowie, on-set footage, and a trailer. The set also includes the new feature documentary Liv & Ingmar, which played theatrically earlier this year. A liner notes booklet contains an essay by film scholar Thomas Elsaesser, an excerpt from the 1970 book Bergman on Bergman, and an excerpted 1977 interview with Andersson.

For years my favorite Bergman movie was Wild Strawberries, but the more I consider this haunting movie, the more it resonates with me. I suspect that Persona has that effect on everyone, as it seems to slowly be replacing the former popular favorite, The Seventh Seal. No doubt it will continue establish itself as a major work of cinema art.

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