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Liv Ullmann plays Elisabet Vogler, a famous stage actress who has a breakdown and after refuses to speak. At a psychiatric facility she’s treated by a doctor and a young nurse named Alma (Bibi Andersson). The doctor has a seaside beach house and sends Alma there with Vogler in the hope that her patient will be able to convalesce in the tranquility of the place. Vogler remains mute, however, while Alma tells stories of her heartbreak and an erotic encounter with two guys and a girl on another beach. Things get weird, then weirder, including scenes in which the two women become almost vampirical and a few where they seem to be one and the same or blend into each other.

Although each Ingmar Bergman film is quite different from the next, the stark images, dreamlike storytelling, and approaches to existential questions are distinctly his in terms of style and theme. But in Persona (1966) we encounter Bergman’s dream imagery at its most intense and effective, and it’s no wonder David Lynch was inspired by the film. I can’t really say I liked or disliked Persona; it may stand outside the pale of likeability. It’s engaging throughout as a psychological thriller, and flashes images that sear into the memory. And it leaves us with myriad, mostly unanswerable questions, about our experiences with the images in the spheres of memory, identity, desire, and the subconscious—not to frustrate or disappoint intentionally, but to invite the viewer into the gratifying impossibility of answering them, alongside Bergman’s artistic quest to split them open.


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