Classic Movie Review: Persona (1966)

Title: Persona
Release Date: 31 August 1966
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Production Company: AB Svensk Filmindustri

This film is an eerie psychological drama about two women. Elisabet (Liv Ullmann) is an actress who stops speaking despite no obvious physical or mental problem. Alma (Bibi Andersson) is a nurse assigned to care for Elisabet. They are sent off to stay at a vacation home on a remote island with hopes the relaxing environment will help Elisabet. Alma talks about increasingly more personal matters, while Elisabet observes.

Tensions grow between the two women and they begin to assume the same identity. Lots of weird things happen and it’s never clear if it’s a dream or delirium, or even if there is just one woman having an identity crisis. To add to the artifice and uncertainty, at the beginning and the middle, the film breaks and melts and scenes from older movies appear. Bergman and his crew even appear filming Alma towards the end of the film.

This is the epitome of an “art house film” and it’s definitely open to many interpretations, some or all of which may be correct. It’s even possible that Bergman just wanted to get two incredibly gorgeous women together, touching each other in frequent close-ups, and put together a story to make that happen. Andersson, carrying the bulk of the dialogue in this film, puts in a wonderful performance, while Ullmann also acts magnificently with her face and mannerisms. It’s a strange and unsettling film, and not something I will want to watch over and over, but I’m glad I got the opportunity to view Persona.

Rating: ***