Art Cinema Characteristics in Persona
According to David Bordwell’s research, Hollywood had a basic outline on how they made their films. The classical narrative cinema follows narrative structure, cinematic style, and spectatorial activity. In Classical Hollywood Cinema there is usually a psychologically defined, goal oriented character that’s easy to like. Foreign countries had a different way of making film, post WWII, Europe reestablished their facilitated film export and coproduction. Since the U. S. was exhibiting film in other countries it gave those foreign countries a chance to make film for international audiences.
The neorealist films may be considered the first postwar versions of art cinema. Most of these films were made by New Wave film directors, Fellini, Resnais, Bergman, De Sica, Kurosawa, Pasolini, etc. The Stylistic Devices and Thematic Motifs seem to differ between these directors but the overall functions of style and theme seem to remain constant in Art Cinema. Art Cinema is the exact opposite of the classical narrative cinema and it avoids the cause and effect linkage of events throughout a film.
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The characteristics of Art Cinema are easy to follow; it gives a realistic setting since most of these films are shot on location without the use of “sets”. Things may occur in the film for no apparent reason and it may never be explained at all in the film. Most of all Art Cinema uses psychologically complex characters that don’t seem to have clear traits or objectives. Some characters just question their objectives and at times they may even be alienated. Every film in this era can be analyzed in a different way; some you should look at literally and some you should think deeply about.
In Persona it seems to be easy enough to analyze by taking what is being shown to you literally. This film seems to contain complex and somewhat alienated characters, realistic settings, some random scenes that are hard to decipher, and there are some constant reminders that it is just a film and not reality. Persona directed by Ingmar Bergman consists of two main actresses Alma (Bibi Andersson) and Elisabeth Vogler (Liv Ullmann). This film isn’t too difficult to analyze if you don’t read too deeply into it. Everything seems to be clear enough and it’s easy to place each sequence into a category.
By category, meaning dream sequences, false reality sequences, and the real sequences that are actually happening. The dream sequences may not make any sense at all but it is easy enough to tell that it is in fact not real and that it is just a transitional shot that is used throughout the film. The most interesting point in this film was the two main characters. The two characters in this film seemed to be completely opposite each other at first. While Alma was always talking and emptying her feelings Elisabeth was always listening. Since these two live together they eventually start to merge almost into one person.
Bergman eventually uses a scene to superimpose one of their faces over the other to show the resemblance, it was a somewhat frightening scene that confused me. This is another sequence that can be taken in numerous amounts of ways. But it was used in a weird time and in a weird context so I believe that in this scene it is safe to say that it was only a “false reality” scene that is supposed to reference to the fact the two characters are basically the same person. These two characters also seem to have their own hidden mysteries also and they are never really resolved either. Aforementioned, art cinema doesn’t need to explain any motives.
There is something that is never clearly stated in the film, why does Elisabeth decide to be mute? There are multiple assumptions from different characters, Alma uses this as a way to insult her after reading the unsealed doctors note, and tells her that she is silent because of the fact that she doesn’t want to lie about her real motives of wanting her son dead. I would guess that the horrors of the world have left Elisabeth speechless. There is a scene when she is watching a television set and it has footage of the war in Vietnam and Bergman seems to emphasize a scene with a Buddhist Monk burning himself to death.
She looks horrified and backs up into a corner and since I couldn’t think of any other motive for Bergman to show the television set with Elisabeth, I assumed this is partly why she is mute. The only time she actually speaks is out of fear, she yells “No, don’t! ” because Alma was about to toss boiling hot water at her. This proves to Alma that Elisabeth is human and she doesn’t want to be scared, doesn’t want to feel pain, and doesn’t want to die. It generally proves to her that Elisabeth exists. Elizabeth isn’t the only one that is going through torment she knows since Alma openly admits her doubts in life.
Alma has some secrets of her own that she shares with Elisabeth. She seems to doubt a lot of the things that she has going on in her life. She is unsure of where her relationship is headed with the man she plans to marry, she doubts her capability to be a nurse, and she also doubts her strength to stand up against Elisabeth. Elisabeth seems to admire what Alma is saying and after she goes to bed another dream sequence is initiated. Bergman seems to leave this up to you on whether or not you want to believe that it really happened.
In this scene, Elisabeth enters Alma’s room and they face each other after she is woken up while one strokes the other’s hair. A voice is heard, “Elisabeth” it says, and in the next scene Mr. Vogler is speaking to Alma is if she is Elisabeth and eventually she comes up behind Alma to make her touch her husband’s face. This once again seems to stress the fact of unity between Alma and Elisabeth as one person. Yet I don’t seem to have a full explanation for this incident and sometimes Art Cinema makes sure you don’t. It could be just representing the realistic feel and the fact that life is just confusing at certain points.
It doesn’t stop here, there are more dream sequences. The most memorable scene; Alma loses her dignity by spilling her past erotic story to Elisabeth by drinking a little too much. Elisabeth takes this opportunity to twist this around and make it seem like she is the doctor while Alma is the patient. Alma finds this out by reading the unsealed note that was supposed to be sent to Elisabeth’s doctor. At this point it is hard to sympathize with Elisabeth and she seems to be an alienated character with no clear motives other than trying to humiliate Alma.
She is somewhat difficult to analyze and her lack of dialogue doesn’t help to show her incentive. The roles have reversed and Alma now feels that Elisabeth is stronger than her and some violent and emotional acts follow. Up until this point the events (other than the scene where Elisabeth goes into Alma’s room) are simple enough to understand and Alma’s reaction seems to be quite ordinary. Right at this point, when I felt like I was absorbed in the film another strange dream sequence reoccurs. It happens after Alma cuts Elisabeth’s foot open by leaving a shard of glass on the back walkway.
The dream sequence instantly reminds you that what you are watching is just a film. The transition catches you off guard and it starts off with a crackling visual that eventually starts to burn and then dissolve. It completely kicks you out of the “movie daze” and it helped to resume with analyzing the film. The scene returns to the same visuals that were used in the beginning, skeletons, vampires, and the hand that is getting a nail hammered into it, and a new scene with a close up of an eye. This can be taken a few different ways.
The camera zooms into the eye showing the details of the veins inside, it is as if it is penetrating the mind and it could mean that Alma is starting to lose her sanity and patience with the close proximity of this woman Elisabeth. It could also represent the viewer too, another reminder that we are just watching the events unfold. There are some extremely strange scenes at the end of the film with Alma explaining Elisabeth’s situation with her supposedly unwanted son who she makes out to sound “deformed”. The first dialogue is heard with Elisabeth’s face being shown as if she is speaking for herself yet it is Alma’s voice.
Then, the same exact dialogue is heard again, this time with Alma’s face being shown and her voice again. It seems as if these women are telling the same story and they are in union. This is near the part where Elisabeth’s face is superimposed over Alma’s face to once again reinforce their unity as one person. Although, these neorealist films are not always entertaining they always hold some true value to the way that each individual takes it. Everyone will have a different perspective on the various “strange” scenes in the movie and some are just not answerable.
It is easy to figure out that the two characters are supposed to be in unity in some way but it is hard to figure out why they are being displayed as one. The best way to define this is the fact that Elisabeth is strong enough to be and to do what she wants while Alma does not have the strength to be herself and she is sucked into being just like Elisabeth. Since Art Cinema is a “raw” way of filming it is hard to decipher from what’s fake and what is real in the story that the director or author is telling. The director’s voice may be heard through the film but it doesn’t stop you from defining it in your own way.