Leave the cannoli, take the movies

Review Blog

My Favorite Films - #2

Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on June 29, 2011 at 9:37 PM

Here it is folks, #2 on my Top 10... I said it was Bergman, and here it is:

#2    -       Persona                   INGMAR BERGMAN, 1966

       This spot could be taken by a number of Bergman films. He is, after all, my favorite filmmaker, and in many ways this slot represents his entire oeuvre and all the things they’ve given me over the years. See this as Cries and Whispers. See it as Shame, or The Silence, or Fanny and Alexander. See it as an acknowledgment of a lifetime of films that together make up an immeasurably profound portfolio.

       With that being said, Persona is the one that really got me, sold me on world cinema, convinced me the art form had the power to explore dense, almost impossibly complex psychological themes. Watching this film for the first time, in the silent darkness, was like uncovering a cryptic human secret only Bergman somehow had access to.

       The story is very simple, yet at the same time completely enigmatic. A nurse (Alma) is tasked with tending to an actress (Elisabet) who has suddenly and inexplicably gone mute. They go away to a cottage by the sea where they can be in peace and quiet, where Alma can ostensibly deliver therapy to Elisabet and, perhaps, draw out some sort of understanding. But then something strange happens, slowly and unnervingly – their roles begin to reverse, not just superficially, but on a deeper and more intrinsic level. Alma and Elisabet come to seem interchangeable, perhaps exactly the same.

       You can read into this film on a million different levels. It is the best kind of art, one that is philosophically inquisitive, packed with meaning and interpretation, working on a scale that becomes larger and more macrocosmic the more it zeroes in on its subjects. Equally as significant is its visual structure, comprised of magnificent dreamlike imagery shot in rich, dripping black & white by Bergman’s exquisite cinematographer Sven Nykvist. Whether you prescribe to the ambiguous, shifting nature of its ideas or not, the images alone create a striking masterpiece of shocking light and nightmarish shadow, morphing somewhere beyond the frame into one indecipherable entity. While the film itself burns and tears midway through, we are made aware we are watching a movie. A movie made around the malleable nature of personality, the creation of the psyche and the elements that project onto it – and become it. In this case, it is through a literal projector, the mind’s eye, revealing through itself notions that are intangible, yet ones it itself has created. If at the end the visage is broken, the truth in the art is infallible. It is cerebral, mysterious, existential; heady themes with no answers, infinitely frustrating to some, absolutely fascinating to me.

Categories: My Favorite Films

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