Wednesday, May 17, 2006



Dir: Ingmar Bergman (Scenes From a Marriage ; The Virgin Spring ; Cries and Whispers ; Fanny and Alexander ; Wild Strawberries )

This man's genius knows no ends.

Bergman at his most abtract and stylized. Parts of this film remind me of the kinds of movies one finds when turning a corner in an art museum and entering a dark room, with silent images flashing out and defying interpretation. At other times, we have a densly written but astonishingly perceptive study of existential angst. Short, compact, and riddled with gut wrenching scenes and images, Persona is another unique and brilliant film from the man who is now officially the BDE.

An actress (Liv Ullmann, as always the breathtaking Ullmann) freezes once on stage, overwhelmed by a life of playing roles and losing her own identity. She decides never to talk again, because all speech is lies and she searches for truth. On a remote island, she is cared for by a young nurse (Bibi Andersson), who bares his soul to the muted actress. Over time, the weight of Ullmann's project overtakes Andersson, and the two enter into an enigmatic relationship. This transformation is perplexing, challenging and fascinating, defying easy exaplanation in a venue such as this.

Bergman is the greatest male writer for females I have ever seen, and this movie explores feminine identity and sexuality is a gripping manner. He shoots the movie almost entirely in tight close-up, the physhical similarities between the two serving as a master metaphor for their mutual development as characters.

Bergman is many years ahead of his time in the recognition of the constructed nature of cinema itself. I am right now calling Fight Club out as a rip-off of Persona, at least in some technical elements. Bergman even splices a penis into the film and has the film tear apart and burn in the middle. The opening montage of Persona is brilliant and enigmatic, something more symbolic than I have ever seen begin a film meant for a mass audience. Bergman is unafraid to follow his vision and has complete control over his films, and creates a mood that primes us to explore the surreal elements of his script to follow.

The film is also more political than many of his others. He features an extended clip from the famous Vietnam protest where the monk lights himself on fire. I have never seen so long a piece of footage from that suicide, and by using it Bergman has made us identity with the disgust that Ulmann feels against the world more so than pages of dialogue could.

This movie, like so many of his, is a gigantic work of truth. Written in two weeks while Bergman was in hopsital with a psychosomatic illness, it is almost criminal how he is so consistent in his greatness. A definition of genius is when one makes the difficult look easy. Bergman is a true genius.