14 January 2008 | Lechuguilla
The Art Of Bergman
From its opening, seemingly random B&W images, Ingmar Bergman's "Persona" screams intellectualism. The film is cold, clinical, and abstract. It induces deep, philosophical questions that lack answers, or questions that provide for a multiplicity of emotionally unsatisfying answers.
About eight minutes into the film, the story begins. In a hospital, young Nurse Alma (Bibi Andersson) is assigned to care for Elisabeth Vogler (Liv Ullmann), an actress who, for no apparent reason, has ceased speaking. Concluding that there is nothing physically or mentally wrong with Elisabeth, the hospital exports her to a seaside cottage, where she is to be cared for by Nurse Alma. Most of the rest of the film is set at the cottage, where the two women get to know each other. But throughout, Elisabeth does not speak. She communicates only with facial expressions and body gestures.
For all of Elisabeth's silence, the film's script is remarkably talky. Nurse Alma talks in long monologues: asking, probing, recalling. She tries to build a relationship with Elisabeth, by vocalizing her own memories and emotional pains in life. Certainly, the film's curious narrative has a lot to "say" about the art, or rather the artificiality, of human communication.
The best element of the film is the artistic, B&W cinematography by Sven Nykvist. Lighting trends toward high contrast, with stark boundaries between light and darkness, a feature that contributes to the film's cold, intellectual tone. There are lots of close-up shots, even extreme close-ups, of the two women. The film's production design is ascetic, unadorned, austere. And this, too, enhances the analytic, abstract feel of the film.
Bergman conceived "Persona" while he was confined to a hospital. And I am inclined to think that the film is a cinematic expression of his own inward psychological struggles during that period of his life.
In other words, "Persona" communicates to us as much about Bergman's mindset, and his ideas of suffering and reality, as it does about any deep, universal questions in a post-modern world, although to some extent, the two dimensions intersect and overlap. Bergman is telling us that, ultimately, the film is not real. It is "nothing". It is an artificial human construct. That is, it is art, a perception that approximates, but does not replace, what we experience as reality.