Around the World in 50 Films: #1 Sweden - Persona (1966)

Around the world in 50 films

This review marks the first of many to come. I have set myself an aim to watch andreview a film from as many countries as possible for the St. Andrews Award andmy own pleasure. The initial target is fifty, but that may increase dependingon how I feel.

Tracing my love for foreign, artistic and generally weird films back to one pictureleads me to Ingmar Bergman's Persona. I took this out of the University libraryon a whim after an online recommendation and was awestruck from the initialmontage. It seems a perfect choice for my first review, so here commences myepic journey around the world of film.

Bergman has made a great number of influential, complex and beautiful films, butPersona stands among the most singular of his works. It concerns ElizabethVogler (the incomparable Liv Ullman), a stage actress who suddenly turns muteduring a performance. She is committed to a hospital, where a nurse named Alma(Bibi Andersson) is put in charge of her. When they are sent away for a respiteat a secluded summer house by the beach, Alma confides all her cares and fearsto Elizabeth and their identities become blurred.

 The film - as most created by Bergman - is less about the story and more about thequestions which it asks and the answers which it gives (or doesn't give). Theexplorations of identity, motherhood, art and the human psyche are deep andcomplex, requiring multiple viewings to truly appreciate.

If philosophical musings aren't your cup of tea, then the film can simply beexperienced passively as a work of art. The cinematography of frequentcollaborator Sven Nykvist is breathtakingly beautiful; he captures everyexpression on the actresses faces perfectly and composes each frame with theskill of a master artist. The lighting at once seems natural and dreamlike.This is particularly notable in a scene near the beginning of the film whereElizabeth's face as she lays on her bed slowly darkens as light leaves theroom. The shot is both beautiful and terrifying.

Bergman has a knack of coaxing the best possible performances from his cast and thisskill is displayed to its full power here. Alma seems completely open, innocentand full of vitality. As the film climaxes however, we witness a venomous,grudging side of her. Bibi Andersson plays both of these parts perfectly;exposing an almost childish naivety with animalistic reactions to hurt andbetrayal. Liv Ullman is silent for almost the whole film, but gets across moreemotions than most could dream of with just her face.

Persona is a film which has remained a favourite of mine and one which I take somethingnew from every time I watch it. If you like your films dense, beautiful andatmospheric, I urge you to watch it.

Also recommended from Sweden:

Any other Bergman film

Roy Andersson (Songs from the Second Floor, You the Living)

Lukas Moodysson (Lilja 4-Ever, Show Me Love)

Tomas Alfredson  (Let The Right One In)

Körkarlen (The Phantom Carriage)

Simon Brand

Image credit - quicheisinsane