Dec. 29, 2009
Persona (1966)
Grade: 53/100

Director: Ingmar Bergman
Stars: Bibi Andersson, Liv Ullmann

What it's about. Elisabeth (Liv Ullmann) is a famous actress who decides to abandon her career and spend her days silently lounging about. She has a husband and a young child, but we hardly get to see them. Instead, she is assigned a nurse, Alma (Bibi Andersson), and sent to an isolated beach house, where Elisabeth and Alma form a homoerotic bond. Alma talks her fool head off, while Elisabeth listens in smug silence. Eventually, Alma becomes annoyed at Elisabeth's silence, and tries to provoke her. Or is Elisabeth trying to provoke Alma? Does Alma even exist, or is she an extension of Elisabeth? Who knows? Who cares?

How others will see it. The primary audience for this movie is fans of Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. Bergman is widely regarded as one of the greatest directors of all time. Bergmanites will immediately recognize Ullmann, who appeared in 12 Bergman films, as well as Andersson, who was the hottie from two of Bergman's most heralded films, The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries.

Critics were receptive in 1966. The USA National Society of Film Critics was particularly impressed, awarding the movie Best Film, Best Director, and Best Actress.

Also approving are those in their 20s. The user ratings for that age group gives the movie 8.5 out of 10. Women over 45 are much less enthusiastic, and grade it only 4.0. Presumably, they find the characters annoying.

How I felt about it. Or perhaps, like me, they just thought the movie was boring. I have seen a number of Bergman films over the years, and only The Seventh Seal cracks 60, and only barely at 62. In other words, Bergman appears to be overrated. Perhaps only Federico Fellini and Paul Thomas Anderson are more overrated.

I can accept the first half of the film's premise. Elisabeth decides to play mum and retreat to an isolated beach house. But she doesn't need a nurse, much less one who hangs about day and night, filling Elisabeth's ear with unbelievable adolescent fantasies concerning ravishing naked women and horny youths. And such lesbian teasing, but this isn't Bound, or even Mulholland Dr.. Those inclined to enjoy such things (which includes most of us) are given nothing to reward suffering through sheets of tedious dialogue. And really, if Elisabeth and Alma turn out to be parts of the same person, such a "revelation" doesn't rank up there with Faye Dunaway's family tree in Chinatown.

I know one person who really liked Persona: Ingmar Bergman's accountant. The movie looks as if it cost practically nothing to make. The cast is essentially two people, and no sets needed construction. Much of the budget seems to have gone into the opening and closing credits, which include such strange moments as an erection and a nail pounded into some unfortunate's hand.