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Today I feel that in Persona – and later in Cries and Whispers – I had gone as far as I could go. And that in these two instances, when working in total freedom, I touched wordless secrets that only the cinema can discover.
Ingmar Bergman, Images: My Life in Film (1990)

Persona (1966) is one of the most emblematic films of the “Art Cinema” from the 60s. Its enigmatic, anti-narrative structure has given rise to many interpretations. Focusing on the relationship between two women, a stage actress suddenly become mute, Elisabeth (Liv Ullmann), and a young nurse named Alma (Bibi Andersson), Persona questions the uncertain boundaries between actor and character, thus turning itself into a radical interrogation on subjectivity and identity.

But the film also offers insight into the aesthetic articulation between dramaturgy of silence, modernist/avant-garde techniques and Holocaust trauma. Such a tension is figured by the irruption of the famous photograph of the “Warsaw Ghetto boy”, that crystallizes Elisabeth’s voluntary mutism as a collective, historical trauma.

Bergman’s reframing of the picture emphasizes the facial close-up (a visual and thematic key of his work).


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