In the popular imagination Bergman was the epitome of the gloomy Swede. No filmmaker wrestled more painfully with the knowledge of his own mortality than Ingmar Bergman. His father was a Lutheran minister, and he cast a long shadow over Bergman’s films. Bergman’s anguished introspection permeated his films, the great majority of which he wrote himself. When they weren’t directly concerned with religion the films were still preoccupied with existential doubt that gnawed at strained family relationships, bitter marriages and passionate but ultimately unfulfilling love affairs. (Bergman himself had nine children, and five wives.) The playwrights August Strindberg and Henrik Ibsen were probably the most important artistic influences on his work, along with the Scandinavian filmmakers Carl Dreyer and Victor Sjostrom (who starred in Bergman’s Wild Strawberries).
What’s remarkable today is the extent to which this austere and uncompromising artist made such a deep imprint on late twentieth century western culture. Among his many honours, Bergman was nominated for nine Academy Awards. In 1997 at a special ceremony for the 50th anniversary of the Cannes Film Festival, he was awarded “the Palm of Palms”, a reflection of his unique standing in world cinema.
Although you could make a case for almost everything he made between the late 1950s and the early 1970s, Persona is his most admired and influential film, a self-reflexive modernist text which echoes through the work of Nicolas Roeg, Robert Altman, Todd Haynes and Atom Egoyan. Liv Ullmann plays a famous stage actress, Elisabeth Vogler. Afflicted with a psychosomatic loss of speech, or, perhaps, simply withdrawing from the world by refusing to speak, Elisabeth is placed under the care of a chatty nurse, Alma (Bibi Andersson) in a cottage on the island of Faro. Different as the two women may appear initially, Alma begins to identify with her charge; indeed, the film suggests, identity is always a projection of conscious choices and subjective desires…
Persona ranked 18 in Sight & Sound’s critics’ poll, and 9th in the directors’ poll.
Sunday’s Pantheon screening will be preceded by a 15 minute introductory lecture and feature a book club-style discussion afterwards.
Feb 18: Intro by Christine Evans, Professor in Cinema Studies, UBC
Christine Evans’ pedagogic research focuses on bridging film theoretical, psychoanalytic, and ideological approaches with evidence-based scholarly teaching in film and media studies. Her discipline-specific research focuses primarily on film theory, Lacanian psychoanalysis, and the work of Slavoj Žižek. Her work has appeared in The Journal of Cinema and Media Studies, Film-Philosophy and The International Journal of Žižek Studies; her book in the series Film Thinks, Slavoj Žižek: A Cinematic Ontology, is forthcoming from Bloomsbury.
The apex of [Bergman’s] career… Self-reflexivity never seemed so seductive, as the film freely plays with ideas of public masks and inner secrets, vampirism physical and metaphysical, and the fine line between screen performance and real lives.
David Thompson, Sight & Sound
More than 50 years after it was made, it hasn’t dated in the slightest. It remains as mysterious and troubling now as it ever was.
Geoffrey Macnab, The Independent
There are so many threads… in this extraordinary, tantalising film that it’s impossible to give precise directions: more perhaps than any other film in the history of the cinema, it is a treasure trove in which each must seek his own jewels.
Tom Milne, The Observer
Lars Johan Werle
Also in This Series
A Matter of Life and Death
In this splendid WWII fantasy, RAF pilot Peter (David Niven) cheats death when his plane is downed over the Channel. Washing up on an English beach, he must plead his case for a life extension in the highest court of them all...
Daisies + Meshes of the Afternoon
This programme highlights two landmarks in feminist film: Maya Deren's surrealist short Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), and Vera Chytilova's subversive new wave farce, Daisies (1966), perhaps the most radical, confrontational film of the era.
The consummate director of the silent era, Murnau was schooled in German Expressionism and embraced the fluidity and dynamism of the moving camera. Invited to Hollywood he prefigured film noir with this tale of a married villager seduced by a city vamp.
The Night of the Hunter
One of the strangest and most beguiling movies you'll ever see, from a poetic, nightmarish novel by Davis Grubb, a fable about two children fleeing from a psychotic evangelical preacher (Robert Mitchum). Charles Laughton's only film as director.