Last Friday, on the 29th, I saw the last showing of the Ingmar Bergman retrospective: Persona. A movie I was really curious about. Because some people said it was his best movie, others just say it’s one of his best ones and then again there are those who don’t like it one bit. Of course, this made me get invested in it even more.
So Andersson plays a 25-year old nurse called Alma who has to take care of Ullmann, who plays an actress called Elisabet Vogler.*
Elisabet is a very known actress who suddenly after a performance of Electra, in which she blocked (forget her lines maybe?), stopped talking. To get her out of this silent state, Elisabet’s doctor sends her and nurse Alma to her summer-house at the beach, for a change of scenery and to help Elisabet to unfold somewhat. But this unfolding is only slightly the case. Although Elisabet does seem more at ease and enjoys her stay, she does not speak a word unlike her talkative nurse. Alma even shares very personal thoughts and experiences with Elisabeth, thinking she is her friend. But Elisabet’s interest in Alma is not very clear. She seems to observe and analyse Alma. She says so in a letter she sends, unclosed, which Alma reads and is very offended by. From then on the relationship between Alma and Elisabet becomes a poisonous one…
I was taken by how strong both female characters were. Two beautiful women, as they usually are in Bergman movies, who are seemingly close to each other suddenly turn 180° on each other. (not 360° but might have been close to it). Bibi Andersson is very powerful and yet vulnerable. though in other movies I’ve seen her in, she is the fun and humoristic character. Here she is hurt and lashes out and you are really intreaged by it. She says such spiteful things as Alma. And Liv Ullmann is also very powerful in her silence. She does not speak a word throughout the movie (or does she…). Yet in that silence she has the power to get Alma to open up to her but on the other hand this leads to Alma’s sudden madness and anger towards her.
The movie is a bit chaotic. The opening alone is a montage of so many different and seemingly incoherent fragments. It makes you wonder whether this reflects Elisabet’s madness or Alma’s. You see images, pictures of portraits of both female characters. Head shots one after the other, almost melting into one. Who is Alma and who is Elisabet? … it get’s hard to figure out…
I found it a very fascinating movie. You don’t often see a movie that leaves you a bit breathless and semi-confused like that when leaving the theatre. I was a bit in shock of the harshness of the two women towards each other, but was taken by how close they started out. A nurse trying to help a patient, become friends and then get messed up. And you wonder how it came and who manipulated who.
NOTE & PERSONAL OBSERVATION:
*The non-speaking character is called Vogler – a name that has also been used in Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf (Vargtimmen) but as Veronica Vogler. Strangely enough, the narrative character in Hour of the Wolf, also played by Liv Ullmann, is called Alma. Alma means ‘soul’ in Spanish. In both movies, Persona and Vargtimmen, the Vogler-characters seem like enchantresses. They both have a hold on people. The Alma-characters on the other hand are the ones who start pure, but get slightly altered somehow by the end of the movies. This is my personal observation. I can be completely wrong about this of course. I just find it striking.
Persona might (again) not be for everyone to see, but I definitely believe it is worth seeing.