Film Review: Persona

Ingmar Bergman’s 1966 classic Persona has an ageless quality. The film offers a mystery which will intrigue viewers throughout.

Nurse Alma is tasked with looking after Elisabet, an actress who is mute following a psychological break. Alma takes Elisabet to an isolated cottage in order try to help her recover…

Ingmar Bergman’s 1966 film gets a re-release as part of the BFI season on the filmmaker’s work. Persona focuses on relationship between troubled actress and the nurse tasked with looking after her. As this relationship develops, writer-director Bergman offers a revealing portrait of these two characters.

There is a mystery at the heart of Persona; Bergman keeps viewers guessing as to the cause of Elisabet’s muteness. For a significant section of the narrative, the attention shifts to Alma and her story. As the film progresses, these characters become entwined.

As viewers may expect from Bergman, the narrative is not straightforward. In the final third of the film, viewers will question how much of what they see is real and how much is imagined. Bergman intersperses the narrative with a brief montage on occasion, almost to remind viewers to question what they see.

The device of deliberate muteness by Elisabet allows Bergman to explore a number of elements. Characters are able to wax lyrical about their place in the world, and the human condition. Later in the film, once a certain story emerges, Bergman tackles a taboo subject. He does this with a clinical edge which feels refreshing.

Performances in the film are great, particularly Bibi Andersson who goes through the range of emotions as Alma. Liv Ullmann suitably expressive as Elisabet. The sound design is subtle but effective. The lighting and camerawork are also memorable. Persona lingers long after the final reel.

Persona is being screened at the BFI Southbank as part of the Ingmar Bergman season, as well as at selected venues throughout the UK.