Film Club - Persona

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Goat Boy
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Film Club - Persona

Postby Goat Boy » 22 Jan 2010, 14:46

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Persona 1966 Ingmar Bergman

Bibi Andersson as Alma, The Nurse
Liv Ullmann as Elisabet Vogler, The Actress

A series of images appear briefly – a movie projector, an erect penis, some animation, a silent movie, a spider, a lamb being slaughtered and finally an image representing the crucifixation. We then see a morgue, presumably, and a solitary young boy in a bare room except for a TV. As befitting the most challenging movie Bergman had made up to that point the beginning of Persona is somewhat oblique (I'll come back to it later) but the story itself is relatively simple.

The basic story involves two women. An actress, Elisabet, who after freezing up on stage, unable to say word, refuses to talk and the other a psychiatric nurse called Alma charged with looking after her. It is clear from the start that nothing is wrong with Elisabet physically or mentally and that her behaviour is a conscious decision. What a brilliantly droll doctor describes as "the hopeless dream to be".

At the beginning of the relationship the young, confident Alma appears to be the stronger, more robust of the two. She talks and talks to the silent Elisabet who outwardly appears passive at first but gradually the relationship changes and after the pair move to an isolated cottage near the sea the control switches enigmatically from the nurse to the patient. Gradually Alma begins to open up and confess her innermost desires and secrets to Elisabet including a casual orgy on a beach and an abortion. Almost effortlessly Elisabet begins to strip Alma of her ‘persona’, her social mask that makes up her fragile identity and she realises the essential falseness of her existence in the same way Elisabet has. The relationship between them suddenly becomes hostile after Alma reads a letter by Elisabet where she casually reveals the nurses secrets and remarks coldly that she enjoys ‘studying’ Alma who may also be in love with her. At this point things begin to dissolve as the identities of the women apparently switch places in a series of eerie, erotic, dreamlike sequences culminating with Alma passionately greeting Elisabets husband who turns up at the cottage suddenly. Bergman even shows the film itself breakdown at this point as the projector film burns up nicely comparing the illusion of the cinema with our own lives.

Persona climaxes as the two women face each other off, dressed all in black as Alma proceeds to viciously verbally attack Elisabet at length detailing the rejection of her son, who repulses her, and her marriage as a whole but quickly finds herself doubting her own life as her sense of self crumbles and even her use of language disintegrates as her identity fuses with Elisabets famously depicted in an ghostly merging of their two faces.

It ends with Elisabet apparently back to normal, or at least accepting and calm in the realisation that although her life may be an ‘illusion’, it is a necessary one in order for her to live and she can participate once again. We even see her returning to being an actress however Alma is left to go back to the false construct of her previous life as Sister Alma; the only means of saving herself from psychological collapse. Alma’s swapped places with Elisabet. By the end all she can say is "nothing".

Persona is one of those films that defies categorisation. I like to think of it as a psychological horror (I love the bit where a vampiric Elisabet actually bites and draws blood from Alma) but it’s a lot more than that of course and there are endless interpretations that you can knock yourself out with. Few directors could get so much out of what is, essentially, just two women hanging out together. Endlessly fascinating and rewarding. It makes you wish all movies were made in black and white! Both actresses looked gorgeous, of course.

Some questions….

What do you make of the beginning? Bergmans quick history of the moving image (pornography, animation, silent films)? The nature of film as illusion (the repeated shots of the projector, the burning up of the film?) Is the young boy Elisabets son reaching out to his Mother on a TV screen? Alma’s aborted son?

What’s your interpretation of the scene where Elisabets husband arrives at the cottage?

Favourite scene?

I love the whole part where Alma talks about the orgy.

Favourite image?

Image

The moment when Alma and Elisabet rest their heads on each other. I think Lynch paid homage in Mulholland Drive. The fade at the end is beautiful.

Bibi or Liv?
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Re: Film Club - Persona

Postby The Modernist » 24 Jan 2010, 18:29

Shame to let this post languish midway down when so much has gone into it. I did manage to find a copy of Persona yesterday, I hope to find time to watch it at some point this week. I'm holding off reading what you say on the film until I've watched it.

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Re: Film Club - Persona

Postby Davey the Fat Boy » 27 Jan 2010, 08:29

Me too - but I've got the DVD in the machine and I'm just waiting for a few free hours to fire it up
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Re: Film Club - Persona

Postby mentalist (slight return) » 27 Jan 2010, 11:30

looks like an interesting writeup (haven't actully read it but there's lots of words!), i'll try and get hold of the movie and watch it next week or the weekend
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Re: Film Club - Persona

Postby nathan » 27 Jan 2010, 17:53

I must admit that I had a hard time with this film. It just seemed too self-aware to the point that it made me not give a shit towards the end. But seeing it in full might make a second viewing easier to swallow. I think I will try it again before giving up on it.

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Re: Film Club - Persona

Postby Goat Boy » 27 Jan 2010, 19:03

Well this thread has gone down well! :lol:
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Re: Film Club - Persona

Postby the masked man » 30 Jan 2010, 15:13

This is a great film and I feel bad about not finding the time to watch it again. It is only 80 minutes long, after all. Anyway, I'll try to watch it this week and then contribute to this thread.

I always saw this as Bergman's homage to the French new wave, particularly given the ending.

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Re: Film Club - Persona

Postby Snarfyguy » 01 Feb 2010, 18:26

Sorry, I've been away and what's more I'm not going to have a chance to rent the DVD until next week. I will definitely do so then, and will chime in with my comments.
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Re: Film Club - Persona

Postby Davey the Fat Boy » 01 Feb 2010, 18:55

Tried to watch it last night, but could not find the remote for my DVD player. All i could do was hit "play" - which I tried to do. But the default setting has it in Swedish with no subtitles. Ugh.
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Re: Film Club - Persona

Postby Snarfyguy » 11 Feb 2010, 03:21

Christ, if this is not the most cursed Film Club selection. I've just now rented the DVD and my damn player can't read it.

I've been noticing problems with the thing and "older" DVDs. This is a 2004 MGM / UA "Special Edition" but it sounds like the disc isn't spinning fast enough for the optical reader to decode it, and when it does gather enough steam, it plays some discs all glitchy with super low-res pixilation - completely unwatchable.

But I just fed it the whole first series of Dexter over the last two weeks and it played those discs fine.

This is a JVC, about five years old and pretty low end. Still, I wouldn't have thought I'd need to replace it already.

Anyway, sorry all. I'm interested in exploring Bergman and I'm totally into Film Club. I wish this selection were faring better.

I'll try and get a new machine over the weekend and hope to give it another shot next week.
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Re: Film Club - Persona

Postby nathan » 11 Feb 2010, 16:58

Snarfyguy wrote:I'll try and get a new machine over the weekend and hope to give it another shot next week.

I've gone through about 8 DVD players over the past 10 years, and I have noticed that Sony is by far the best when it comes to reading any type of disc. Whether it be a burned DVD-R or a dog-eared Netflix copy that looks like it's been to hell and back, there is hardly a problem.

Best Buy this week has a really good Sony player on sale for $40. Not too shabby.

And I have been thinking about watching Persona again this weekend, just to make sure and hopefully add a bit more to the discussion.

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Re: Film Club - Persona

Postby Snarfyguy » 11 Feb 2010, 18:17

Thanks for the recommendation, Nathan. I'll try to grab that one.
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Re: Film Club - Persona

Postby Goat Boy » 11 Feb 2010, 18:21

Snarfyguy wrote:Christ, if this is not the most cursed Film Club selection.



typical :roll:
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Re: Film Club - Persona

Postby Snarfyguy » 12 Feb 2010, 05:41

Okay, so I went and got that cheap Sony, which seems to work fine (thanks again, N) and still had the DVD so I watched it and it blew my face off!

I didn't think the plot was so important as the barrage of visual innovations and the spooky mood. Excellent score, too. The super close up ultra high contrast shadow parts toward the end got to be a bit over the top, but I'm glad somebody went there.

I've never seen this stuff, but David Lynch has paid a lot of homage.

Some obvious parallels to Performance, I guess.
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Re: Film Club - Persona

Postby The Modernist » 04 Apr 2010, 22:11

Just adding algroth's comments from the other thread:

algroth wrote:Not sure if I still can, but I'd like to take part in the game, please.

That said, Persona is a classic, and by far my favorite Bergman film. A disturbing and ambiguous tale about the loss (or rather the exchange) of identity. Two sequences really stuck with me since I watched it the first time, which were the sequence where Liv Ullman silently cried while watching the Vietnamese burn on the TV, and the other being that sequence in which we see Bibi Andersson torturing Liv Ullman via a monologue, where we first see the whole monologue with the camera facing Andersson and then we are replayed the same scene but seeing Ullman instead. Very tense, disturbing sequence.

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Re: Film Club - Persona

Postby algroth » 04 Apr 2010, 22:15

the masked man wrote:This is a great film and I feel bad about not finding the time to watch it again. It is only 80 minutes long, after all. Anyway, I'll try to watch it this week and then contribute to this thread.

I always saw this as Bergman's homage to the French new wave, particularly given the ending.


And yet he hated the French new wave. ;)

Well, at least Godard, anyways.

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Re: Film Club - Persona

Postby algroth » 04 Apr 2010, 22:15

M! wrote:Just adding algroth's comments from the other thread:

algroth wrote:Not sure if I still can, but I'd like to take part in the game, please.

That said, Persona is a classic, and by far my favorite Bergman film. A disturbing and ambiguous tale about the loss (or rather the exchange) of identity. Two sequences really stuck with me since I watched it the first time, which were the sequence where Liv Ullman silently cried while watching the Vietnamese burn on the TV, and the other being that sequence in which we see Bibi Andersson torturing Liv Ullman via a monologue, where we first see the whole monologue with the camera facing Andersson and then we are replayed the same scene but seeing Ullman instead. Very tense, disturbing sequence.


Thanks, M!

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Re: Film Club - Persona

Postby The Modernist » 04 Apr 2010, 22:20

And I've finally got round to viewing this myself.
I'm not entirely sure what to say of it..the feeling is of having read a difficult philosophical text and feeling relief that you've at least completed it.
Clearly there are clever ideas at work and one can see it's influence in all sorts of ways. It felt very modern in terms of some of its ideas - the idea of the self as a series of mediated fragments for instance. Some of its visual ideas were striking too, particularly its use of half shadow lighting and internal framing devices.
I can't say I particularly enjoyed it, but it's difficult to voice criticisms without sounding like you're making the standard criticisms of a certain kind of 60's art cinema. Interesting but curiously ephemeral in many ways, it felt like a small experimental film rather than a major work of cinema. Perhaps my tastes are too mainstream for Bergman's vision..I don't know.

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Re: Film Club - Persona

Postby algroth » 04 Apr 2010, 22:25

M! wrote:Perhaps my tastes are too mainstream for Bergman's vision..I don't know.


As the avid Bergman fan that I am, I'd advice you to still check out the rest of his works, as Persona is as experimental as he gets. Films like The Seventh Seal, Autumn Sonata and Scenes Of A Marriage are all in my opinion much more accessible and very worthwhile even for casual Bergman viewers.

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Re: Film Club - Persona

Postby The Modernist » 04 Apr 2010, 22:36

algroth wrote:
M! wrote:Perhaps my tastes are too mainstream for Bergman's vision..I don't know.


As the avid Bergman fan that I am, I'd advice you to still check out the rest of his works, as Persona is as experimental as he gets. Films like The Seventh Seal, Autumn Sonata and Scenes Of A Marriage are all in my opinion much more accessible and very worthwhile even for casual Bergman viewers.


Thanks. I have seen, and enjoyed, The Seventh Seal. I shall look out for the other two as well. Many recommend The Wild Strawberries as his best don't they?
Funnily enough I got a study of Bergman's films the other day that was being given free in the college library as they were getting rid of their books. I shall have to give it a go as he may be someone whose films are rewarded by knowing something of the context.
Welcome to the board and this section btw. :)
Film club was something where we discussed a series of films. I think many of the threads are still around in the back pages, so you can bump any by adding new comments. It started to lose its way rather in the last few months in terms of lack of interest, so at the moment as an idea it's lying a bit dormant. But I may revive it for the ocassional film in future.