A nurse named Alma (Bibi Andersson) is assigned to take care of actress Elisabet Vogler (Liv Ullmann), who has suddenly become mute. Under the advice of the hospital administrator, the two women seclude themselves at a seaside cottage. During their time together, Alma continuously talks to Elisabet, often detailing personal experiences. Though she doesn’t receive any verbal responses from Elisabet, Alma begins to see her personality converging with her patient.
I think I could change myself into you if I tried. I mean, inside. You could be me, just like that.
The persistent theme throughout Persona is the question of identity and how one identifies with other people. Though Alma and Elisabet lead vastly different lives, they can still identify with each other’s struggles. What I loved most about Persona was how much its contrasting cinematography showcased this theme. Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann are often framed with their faces overlapping each other, showing their characters’ merging personalities. The actresses don’t look identical, but it’s striking the way they’re photographed in some scenes where they look like they could be the same person (as evidenced below, where their faces are blended together).
For me, Ingmar Bergman is the most elusive of the acclaimed, international directors. Of the few films of his I’ve seen, they’re all quite different from the other. I’d say Persona is the most challenging of his films, as it leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Going into the film, I only knew about the premise (and of course its critical acclaim), thinking it would be more straightforward than it ended up being. I’m still processing everything that happened in it, and I know already that it’s a film I need to revisit to catch things I may have missed and to just absorb it as a whole more. After seeing this though, I can see how much it influenced other films that had similar psychological themes.
Directed by: Ingmar Bergman
Starring: Bibi Andersson, Liv Ullmann
Oscar Nominations: N/A
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