Persona (Ingmar Bergman, 1966)

Tuesday, August 29, 2017 - 19:00 to 20:30
CINEMATEK (Ledoux), Brussels


“But sorting out what is fantasy from what is real in Persona (i.e., what Alma imagines from what may be taken as really happening) is a minor achievement. And it quickly becomes a misleading one, unless subsumed under the larger issue of the form of exposition or narration employed by the film. As I have already suggested, Persona is constructed according to a form that resists being reduced to a story - say, the story about the relation (however ambiguous and abstract) between two women named Elizabeth and Alma, a patient and a nurse, a star and an ingenue, alma (soul) and persona (mask). Such reduction to a story means, in the end, a reduction of Bergman’s film to the single dimension of psychology. Not that the psychological dimension isn’t there. It is. But to understand Persona, the viewer must go beyond the psychological point of view.”


Persona takes a position beyond psychology - as it does, in an analogous sense, beyond eroticism. It certainly contains the materials of an erotic subject, such as the ‘visit’ of Elizabeth’s husband that ends with his going to bed with Alma while Elizabeth looks on. There is, above all, the connection between the two women themselves which, in its feverish proximity, its caresses, its sheer passionateness (avowed by Alma in word, gesture, and fantasy) could hardly fail, it would seem, to suggest a powerful, if largely inhibited, sexual involvement. But, in fact, what might be sexual in feeling is largely transposed into something beyond sexuality, beyond eroticism even. The most purely sexual episode in the film is the scene in which Alma, sitting across the room from Elizabeth, tells the story of an impromptu beach orgy; Alma speaks, transfixed, reliving the memory and at the same time consciously delivering up this shameful secret to Elizabeth as her greatest gift of love. Entirely through discourse and without any resort to images (through a flashback), a violent sexual atmosphere is generated. But this sexuality has nothing to do with the ‘present’ of the film, and the relationship between the two women.”

Susan Sontag in ‘Bergman’s Persona


“The taxi finally took us to the steles, the weathered columns of rock off the north side of the island. We stood leaning against the wind, staring with watering eyes at those secretive idols raising their heavy foreheads against the waves and the darkening horizon.

I don’t really know what happened. If one wished to be solemn, it could be said that I had found my landscape, my real home; if one wished to be funny, one could talk about love at first sight.

I told Sven Nykvist [Bergman’s director of photography] I wanted to live on the island for the rest of my life and that I would build a house just where the film’s stage house stood. Sven suggested I should try a few kilometres farther south. That is where my house stands today. It was built between 1966 and 1967.

My ties with Faro have several origins. The first was intuitive. This is your landscape, Bergman. It corresponds to your innermost imaginings of forms, proportions, colours, horizons, sounds, silences, lights and reflections. Security is here. Don’t ask why. Explanations are clumsy rationalizations with hindsight. In, for instance, your profession you look for simplification, proportion, exertion, relaxation, breathing. The Faro landscape gives you a wealth of all that.

Other reasons: I must find a counterweight to the theatre. If I were to rant and rave on the shore, a gull, at most, would take off. On the stage, such an exhibition would be disastrous. Sentimental reasons: I would retreat from the world, read the books I hadn’t read, meditate, cleanse my soul, (After a month or two I was hopelessly involved in the islanders’ problems, something which resulted in the 1969 Faro Document.)

Further sentimental reasons: during the filming of Persona, Liv and I were overwhelmed by passion. With monumental lack of judgement, I built the house with the idea of a mutual existence on the island. I forgot to ask Liv what she thought. I managed to find out later from her book ‘Changing’. On the whole her testimony is, I think, affectionately correct. She stayed a few years. We fought our demons as best we could. Then she got the part of Kristina in The Emigrants. That took her far away. When she left, we knew.

Self-imposed solitude is all right. I entrenched myself and established machine-like routines. I got up early, went for a walk, worked and read. At five o’clock, the wife of a neighbour came and cooked dinner washed up and left. At seven o’clock, I was alone again.

I had cause to dismantle the machine and examine the parts. I was dissatisfied with my latest films and productions, but dissatisfied after the event. While the work had been going on, I had protected myself and my doings from destructive criticism, and could not identify failings and weaknesses until later.”

Ingmar Bergman in his autobiography ‘The Magic Lantern’


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