Persona (Ingmar Bergman, 1966) dp Sven Nykvist; Bibi Andersson, Liv Ullmann
A young nurse, Alma (Bibi Andersson), is put in charge of Elisabeth Vogler (Liv Ullmann): an actress who is seemingly healthy in all respects, but will not talk. As they spend time together, Alma speaks to Elisabeth constantly, never receiving any answer. Alma eventually confesses her secrets to a seemingly sympathetic Elisabeth and finds that her own personality is being submerged into Elisabeth's persona.

I thought I saw a version of Persona in which at the end the director and cinematographer (Sven Nykvist) are seen talking. It must have been another film from the one I saw tonight.

Everyone mentions the moment when Elisabet says, ‘No, stop it!’ but no-one notes that she and Alma sing together. The traumatised little girl in Amy (Nadia Tass, 1997) can also only communicate in song. Some people with dementia, who have lost language, 'come alive' in the presence of songs they still remember.

I see a connexion between Persona (1966) and The Face (Ansiktet, 1958, aka The Magician). ‘Persona’ is the Greek word for a mask – something that covers the face. I see the later film as Ingmar Bergman’s essay on the nature of the actor, retrospectively drawing attention to what the mask covers, the subject of the earlier film: the creative artist. The subtext* of Ansiktet is the creator: writer, film-maker. The real magician here is the writer/director of the film – remember that Bergman’s autobiography is called The Magic Lantern!

Persona (Ingmar Bergman, 1966)
The Face (Ingmar Bergman, 1958; Ansiktet: aka The Magician)

* A friend firmly believes that works of art are only of value, not for their surface, their appearance, but for their subtext - each should have one and only one, and it should be 'about' something - but for me it is more complex.

Garry Gillard | New: 4 March, 2017 | Now: 30 March, 2021