Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bergman, Part 1 -- or Persona: Portrait of a Women

I have been watching my new Ingmar Bergman films, preparing to write a 6page paper for midterms. The films I am watching are Persona, Passion of Anna (just Passion in Sweden), and Saraband, which is the one I have yet to view.

Persona is one of my favorite films of all time, I'd say it's about second. It's also totally messed up. I am not entirely sure what I think it's all about, but I have some ideas, so let me share them with you:

The story follows an actress, Liv Ullman who is choosing, after some sort of nervous breakdown, to be mute. The subtitles have the doctor saying she is also "immobile," but it isn't meant in the paralyzed, physical sense. Instead, she chooses not to care for her son, see her husband...she just doesn't want to do much of anything. The story is also about her nurse, Bibi Andersson, who accompanies her to a seaside cottage for rest and relaxation. The nurse is younger and talks a lot, seemingly at the behest of Ullman.

Some of the core themes are lying and identity, specifically female identity. Bergman paints a well rounded portrait of these women, zeroing in on three characteristics of femininity - the mother, the sister, the lover.

Throughout the film the characters interchange who plays the role of caregiver. Although Andresson is younger, she is the nurse, there to do the job of meeting Ullman's needs. However, Ullman is older, possibly wiser, and often treats Andersson as though she is someone who needs looking after.

The two form a close bond, spending there days together, comforting each other, and for the most part in a very sisterly manner. Here Bergman does something that astounds me; he is able to capture the way in which feelings of sisterhood between women are carried out through mutual maternal actions. I'm not sure if I can explain that right now, I just feel it to be true. I'll keep working on it.

The part of Bergman's films that it seems people wish to shy away from, but which he absolutely refuses to let you do, is the aspect of "women as lover" -- and not just the lover of men, but also other women. If Persona were made today, by some hack in Hollywood, it would probably be called Obsession. The two women develop a relationship in which they blend into one another (figuratively and literally, by way of an awesome shot of halves of the two women's faces taking up the entire screen), but with very strong sexual undertones. Bergman does this again in Cries and Whispers, to a much greater extent...but this is about Persona, not C&W.

So often, in new and old films, we see female characters portrayed as one, possibly two, dimensional - the stupid-girly-flirt, the mean-old-boss, the smart-yet-slightly-unattractive-sidekick, the overbearing-mother, the seductress, the list goes on - but never are the stereotypes combined the way they are in real life. To be sure, Bergman's women are kind of f***ed up, but that's how movies are. We don't see films because they reflect our lives exactly as they are every day. Instead we zoom in on the dramatic, crazy times and multiply it by ten...

and that's entertainment.

And with Bergman, it's a kind of introspection for the whole of humanity as well...

I'll leave it there for now, and get into the Vietnam thing next time.


Onkel Hankie Pants said...

But is there a story?

Sisterfilms said...

I'm not sure what you mean... of course there is a plot, though it isn't all that linear. It goes like this:

Ullmann get sick, meets nurse.
Doctor sends Ullmann to stay at her seaside cottage with nurse.
Ullmann and Nurse become friends, nurse shares her innermost thought.
Nurse perceives Ullmann as having betrayed her...

and then there's like, 30 min. of crying and people delving further into craziness.

not much of a resolution, either.

Onkel Hankie Pants said...

Well, if there's delving into craziness, it can't be all bad. But it still sounds as if I would be impatient for a little more action were I to watch it. And I probably should put some Bergman on my Netflix list. I just watched Pulp with Mickey Rooney and Michael Caine, one of the few films I've seen twice. It still didn't do much for me after all these years, but maybe you film studies folk would appreciate it more.