During the Sixties, internationally recognized writer/director Ingmar Bergman checked himself into a hospital – an earnest effort to tackle a fair collection of personal demons after suffering a “psychosomatic breakdown.” Though he had planned to direct Liv Ullman and Bibi Andersson in a film, that project was cancelled due to Bergman's mental crash; it was during his recuperation that the mordant writer composed the ultimate mood poem.
Commentator Marc Gervais isn't far off in describing the film as a poetry told in deconstructionist mode, reflective of the stylistic experimentation that occurred during the Sixties. “Persona” is a film that mandates multiple viewings – if not to take a crack at what the heck Bergman's up to, then to revisit and enjoy the fine nuances of this highly visual film.
MGM's transfer is made from a stunning uncensored print (retaining some shock images in the prologue, including a flash frame that fans of “Fight Club” will recognize), with excellent detail and deep gray levels. Sven Nykvist's cinematography – his second collaboration with Bergman – contains some of the most beautiful images ever photographed in black & white; even if the story may dumbfound, the expressive details that Bergman imposes on his cast through extreme close-ups achieves a powerful level of intimacy.
If you get ten people to watch the film in one sitting, you're likely to receive two to three individual theories from each viewer on the meaning of “Persona” – and no doubt a few who will simply find the whole vehicle utterly frustrating. It's almost futile to find a coherent meaning in “Persona” – partly because it's experimental, sometimes arty and self-conscious, and obviously therapy for a director trying to sort out personal demons from his hospital bed.
Explaining “Persona” isn't what commentator Marc Gervais attempts, but his own narrative, meant to somewhat mirror the film's jarring texture, often resembles a kind of fragmented beat poetry. A Jesuit priest and film professor at Montreal's Concordia University, Gervais' observations offer the occasional biographical sketch, but buoyed between regular silent gaps, his remaining passages are moderately theoretical, and very laid back. Gervais' admiration for Bergman sometimes suggests deeper, resident meanings within shots than are arguably less present.
While the DVD's commentary track leans towards the critical-lite, the making-of featurette does an excellent job in using “Persona” as a platform to discuss Bergman's personal trauma that inspired a series of self-reflective filmic plays on the degeneration of the human mind & personality during the Sixties. Using interviews of Gervais, Liv Ullman, Bibi Andersson, and archival interview clips of the director from the Canadian program “Man Alive” from 1970, one also discovers the film's effect on the cast – testing careers, and in the case of Bergman and Ullman, affecting their personal lives. It becomes clear why, for Bergman fans, “Persona” is such a daring work.
Two on-camera interviews with the film's leading ladies are essentially discussions not wholly germane to the featurette's scope. Both tackle personal questions regarding their careers, on being discovered by Bergman, and his directing style, and Ullman provides additional comments on her decision to begin a relationship with the director, and Bergman's own penchant for playing up his own persona when critics repeatedly demanded explanations for his more confounding work.
This title is available separately, or as part of the Ingmar Bergman Collection that includes the films "The Serpent's Egg", "Persona", "Shame", "The Passion Of Anna", "Hour Of The Wolf," and a Bonus Disc.
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan