Art as a Story

Dubbed as the “Mount Everest” of cinematic analysis, it is no doubt that Ingmar Bergman’s Persona will twist one’s head with the genius of its screenplay and cinematography. This movie will leave one confused and frustrated with so many questions left unanswered. Personally, all the questions I would begin to ask at the start of the film only became more complicated the more the movie serves me its story. It felt like I was being force fed with symbolisms and allegories; and although the feeling was disorienting, in some ways it was satisfying. I may have experienced many modern movies, to which I began feeling tired of, but never have I experienced such a movie as Persona.

One of the things that really caught my attention about the movie is the way the cinematography was presented. It felt like each scene was a piece of a professionally done photo. As seen through the film, the way the light divides the characters’ faces on close ups really highlighted the impact of the scene. The elements of the image were divided and placed equally in the frame, like in the scene where Elisabet Vogler watches Alma sleep after sharing her intimate story. Although the scene was silent at most, much of its impact was presented through Elisabet’s expressions, which despite being in the background of the frame, was greatly highlighted by the intense light. Even if Alma’s face occupied a big portion of the frame, the audience is drawn to Elisabet’s face, which eerily looks over Alma’s peaceful, yet very distressed expression. A lot of Elisabet’s scenes are often presented this way. It’s almost as if the character purposely hovers over Alma, studying her every expression. And this is exactly what Alma discovers in the story.

I have noticed that after discovering (or at least assuming as this was never really confirmed by the movie) Elisabet’s intention of studying Alma through her letter to a friend, the roles of observant and observee are switched. Yet, we’re still drawn to Elisabet despite her being the one being observed. Maybe because now we have Alma’s commentary to guide us on what to observe about Elisabet. Whereas previously, we were only given Elisabet’s expressions as she looks over Alma, which served as our only clues to figure out what she thinks of her subject. In the two cases, I have always been drawn to Elisabet. It might be that the movie is showing us that despite Elisabet escaping her life as an actress, she still manages to draw her audience in, a skill that an actor must master. However, one thing is certain and that is Elisabet’s use of her facial expressions to communicate her character’s dilemma. What is amazing about this is that scenes that show a close up of her face looks like a different image per frame. Even the slightest movement of her lips evoke a different kind of expression. I often wonder in scenes like this what Elisabet is truly feeling.

Many observations and questions arise the more one watches Persona, as stated by many, including renowned film critics. I offer one observation which may be contradicted by another. Yet, both observations may equally be true as declared by critic Peter Cowie. Despite the confusion on the true meaning of Persona, it is in it’s art and cinematography that one may be given the satisfaction Persona seems to be depriving us from. Perhaps, its true meaning may be hidden among the frames the movie presents to us.

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