Laemmle Theatres and the Anniversary Classics Abroad Series present the 55th anniversary of Ingmar Bergman’s Persona (1967) on December 13 at three Laemmle locations. The intense, provocative psychological drama was one of the keystone films of the late-period golden age of the art-house in the 1960s and energized the “Film Generation” that came of age in that seminal decade.
The story concerns an actress (Bergman newcomer Liv Ullmann) who stops speaking in the middle of a performance and refuses to communicate. She is placed in the care of a nurse (Bergman regular Bibi Andersson) and they retreat to the isolation of a beach house for her recovery. As their relationship progresses, it takes fascinating twists and turns. Some have compared their relationship to that of a psychiatrist and patient, with Ullmann paradoxically playing the role of the psychoanalyst whose silence prods the nurse into revealing some of her innermost secrets and deep-seated anxieties. Andersson’s confessions include one vivid memory of an uninhibited sexual encounter that critic Pauline Kael described as “one of the rare truly erotic sequences in movie history.”
Swedish auteur and all-time film titan Bergman was one of the directors at the center of the international film explosion that captivated moviegoers during that era. College students and engaged moviegoers debated long into the night, trying to decipher all the mysteries of this utterly compelling but sometimes puzzling film, not unlike the reaction to Alain Resnais’ enigmatic Last Year at Marienbad earlier in the decade. Andrew Sarris, the influential film critic of The Village Voice, noted that the film “seems to bewitch audiences even when it bewilders them.” Michael Wilmington in the Chicago Tribune cited it as “one of the screen’s supreme works and perhaps Ingmar Bergman’s finest film.” Peter Bradshaw of the Guardian called it “sensually brilliant, an endlessly questioning and mysterious disquisition on identity. Persona is a film to make you shiver with fascination, or incomprehension, or desire.”