Originally some the earlier Bergman films were harder for me to get into, because most of the Bergman I saw first was from late in his career
and far more 'naturalistic' - 'Fanny and Alexander', 'Autumn Sonata', 'Scenes From a Marriage' etc. I don't think I understood that for much
of his great career he was as much an experimentalist (at times) as Lynch, or Fellini, or Kubrick or Godard. Now that I understand
that, it's easier for me to get excited by the earlier more surreal and challenging work.
Also, with 'Persona' the experiment seems more subtle and complex than in some of Bergman's other early work. The themes are right out in the
open but there's much less literalness in the questions. The whole FILM is a series of questions, but posed in a poetic way - what is identity?
What is acting? What is film? What are the boundaries between people? What is reality and what is a dream, both in this film, and in our own
This is a haunting deeply disturbing work, and part of it's very effectiveness is it's 'unexplainability', ala '2001' or a Magritte
painting. Like a koan, it forces you to try and make sense of something that has no simple answer.
On first viewing there were a few times when things felt a little on the nose, or my feeling of 'huh?' was the bad kind, not the good one.
But this is a fascinating film, that combines some of the most truly dreamlike sequences I've ever seen with what seems a conventional
narrative, only to curve in on itself into obscurity yet again. It is ultimately the kind of puzzle that art does best - it makes you ponder
things both consciously and subconsciously at the same time.
The two lead performances by Bibi Anderson and Liv Ullmann are extraordinary, and Sven Nykvist again creates a series of unforgettable
images (now with the wider palate that Bergman started towards in 'The Silence' - more camera moves, more 'cinematic' angles.).
But the nexus of this film, isn't the acting or the photography (though the film would fail miserably without both being great), this is a film
about the inside of the filmmaker's mind, and by extension the inside of all of our minds as we fight to make sense of the lives we lead.
It also has the single most erotic scene where nothing physical happens I've ever encountered. And it's that kind of paradox that 'Persona' is
all about. I know I will get more from repeated viewings. The film begs for it.
It's also impossible to note how many films since have borrowed its techniques and images. Indeed, after the rare moments I felt
dismissively 'we've seen this idea before', I'd realize 'no we HADN'T seen it before Bergman made this film'.
The MGM transfer has been (rightly)castigated for cropping the image, although in all fairness it looks a lot less drastic than the 11% usually
sighted sounds. If you haven't seen the film, it's still very worthwhile. But if you can play the UK Tartan version, that is a less cropped,
somewhat better transfer. (The fact this isn't yet a Criterion blu-ray is confounding)