Sunday, 2 July 2017

On rewatching Persona; some other remarks on cinema

1/ After the 2nd viewing of Persona, I’m more inclined to go with the literal interpretation—a story between 2 women, as what we see on the screen, instead of the interpretation that they’re 2 sides of the same woman.
2/ Of course, not everything that appears on the screen does happen. Persona is a blend of reality and fantasy. This time, it becomes clearer which sequences are real and which not.
3/ The women are alike. The repetition of the exact same scene, from another angle, creates an effect, makes us feel something different—the 1st time, Alma is trying to speak for Elisabet, analysing her; the 2nd time, she seems to be speaking about herself.
4/ The women are alike; both have been hiding behind a mask (persona) and now cast it away—Elisabet as a loving wife and mother, Alma as a good nurse and happy engaged woman.
5/ A good nurse she is not. Alma lacks the necessary detachment, she lacks the stability and mental strength for the job. She lets bitterness and resentment get the better of her, and betrays the principle of her profession.
6/ Between the 2, Alma is weak, Elisabet is stronger. The nurse herself knows it requires some mental strength to remain silent, refuse to speak.
7/ Ingmar Bergman says, in an interview by Charles Thomas Samuels, “The monk scares her because his conviction is so enormous he is willing to die for it”. That is a much greater mental strength.
6/ Perhaps she realises that that is real suffering, as is the tragedy of the Holocaust. What does she think of? The smallness and insignificance of her own suffering? The catastrophes and injustices of the world? The unfairness of life in general? The falsehoods of all things, which make her fall silent so as not to say a lie?
7/ Of course, the words of the doctor should not be seen as the key to understanding the film.

8/ I shall not attempt to decode the opening sequence of Persona and reduce them to a series of symbols: sexual desire, horror, sacrifice, etc. Film is a visual medium—it’s about image, and how we intuitively respond to it, how we feel about it. 
Ingmar Bergman remarks in his essay “Each Film Is My Last”: 
“Film is not the same thing as literature. As often as not the character and substance of the 2 art forms are in conflict. What it really depends on is hard to define, but it probably has to do with the self-responsive process. The written word is read and assimilated by a conscious act and in connection with the intellect, and little by little it plays on the imagination or feelings. It is completely different with the motion picture. When we see a film in a cinema we are conscious that an illusion has been prepared for us and we relax and accept it with our will and intellect. We prepare the way into our imagination. The sequence of pictures plays directly on our feelings without touching the mind.” 
He says again in the introduction to Four Screenplays
“When we experience a film, we consciously prime ourselves for illusion. Putting aside will and intellect, we make way for it in our imagination. The sequence of pictures plays directly on our feelings. Music works in the same fashion; I would say that there is no art form that has so much in common with film as music. Both affect our emotions directly, not via the intellect. And film is mainly rhythm; it is inhalation and exhalation in continuous sequence. Ever since childhood, music has been my great source of recreation and stimulation, and I often experience a film or play musically.” 
Andrei Tarkovsky expresses the same idea in Sculpting in Time:
“A literary work can only be received through symbols, through concepts — for that is what words are; but cinema, like music, allows for utterly direct, emotional, sensuous perception of the work.” 
Many literature lovers speak of films with disdain because, they argue, reading requires you to use your own imagination whereas a film already gives you images which you take passively. That is the mistaken view of people who neither know truly great films nor understand the nature of cinema and what it’s capable of. The 2 media have different strengths and powers (and different limitations). The 1st films I think of as a response to people who think film is an inferior art, or not a serious art form, would be: 8 ½, Persona, Three Colours: Blue and 2001: A Space Odyssey
9/ I also found, on the internet, this quote by Ingmar Bergman: 
“When film is not a document, it is dream. That is why Tarkovsky is the greatest of them all. He moves with such naturalness in the room of dreams. He doesn't explain. What should he explain anyhow? He is a spectator, capable of staging his visions in the most unwieldy but, in a way, the most willing of media. All my life I have hammered on the doors of the rooms in which he moves so naturally. Only a few times have I managed to creep inside. Most of my conscious efforts have ended in embarrassing failure – The Serpent’s Egg, The Touch, Face to Face and so on.
Fellini, Kurosawa and Bunuel move in the same fields as Tarkovsky. Antonioni was on his way, but expired, suffocated by his own tediousness. Melies was always there without having to think about it. He was a magician by profession.
Film as dream, film as music.” 
Not commenting on Antonioni (who, when I watched a few years ago, didn’t quite get), I agree about Fellini, and a bit more tentatively (because I haven’t seen much) about Tarkovsky and Bunuel. It also applies for Ingmar Bergman. But I’m not quite sure about Kurosawa—that doesn’t sound right to me. 
10/ After Ingmar Bergman, I intend to check out Tarkovsky. I’ve seen Solaris.

1 comment:

  1. "Melies was always there without having to think about it. He was a magician by profession." Hey, that's what I was saying on the "decade best" post. Nice to see Bergman agree.