Ingmar Bergman’s Persona makes its debut into The Criterion Collection (amazingly Criterion has never released the film previously on any other format) with a new dual-format edition. The new high-definition transfer is presented in 1080p/24hz on the dual-layer Blu-ray disc, while a standard-def version is presented on the first dual-layer DVD. In both cases the film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1. It has not been window boxed on the DVD, a practice they seemed to have dumped for new releases after going dual-format. Though I’m admittedly not at all familiar with the various versions of this film, I’m sure this is the uncut version as the opening montage presents a glimpse of an erect penis and the erotic story that Alma tells Elizabet is intact.
Criterion continues an excellent streak, yet again delivering a top-notch high-def presentation. This incredibly filmic delivery rarely falters, showing off sharp contrast levels with pleasantly blended gray levels and superb black levels, allowing details to be clearly visible in some of the darker scenes. Definition is excellent, with clean edges and clear rendering of textures, which are especially good in some of the rocky exterior shots. Film grain is fine but present, looking clean and natural, and it doesn’t give the idea any unnatural tampering has occurred to the image. Other than some intentional placement and stylistic choices on the director’s part, I don’t recall many blemishes—if any—in the source print; if there was anything I completely missed it.
The DVD’s transfer uses the same high-def master for its base and is all the better for it. While it’s obvious the Blu-ray offers a vast improvement over MGM’s decent DVD edition, Criterion’s DVD also offers a noticeable improvement. I found it more natural looking with better contrast and it comes off less noisy with a cleaner looking print. It’s not as stunning in comparison to the Blu-ray mind you, but I still think those who haven’t upgraded to Blu-ray yet should consider this edition for the DVD since its presentation is better than previous offerings.
Overall Criterion serves us up a superb image, improving noticeably over MGM’s previous DVD edition with a more natural looking image. 10/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Criterion does a decent job with this edition, piling on a number of supplements. First is a visual essay by film scholar Peter Cowie called Persona’s Prologue: A Poem in Images. The 20-minute segment primarily breaks down the opening sequence and what Bergman’s intent with it was, along with a similar self aware moment part way through the film where it appears the film breaks up. He basically goes through the opening montage through sections, stopping and commenting on the various images that appear, and then talks about the sequence with the boy waking up in what I’ve always assumed was a morgue. He brings up possible moments from Bergman’s life that more than likely influenced all of this, the French New Wave influences found in all of this, as well as Bergman’s attempts at breaking the barrier of the screen between the characters and the audience. For the most part I enjoy Cowie’s contributions and I found this to be an involving and well thought out piece, worth a look.
A bulk of the supplements are interviews, starting with a couple of archival ones. The first is from a 1966 Swedish television program and features Bibi Andersson, Ingmar Bergman, and Liv Ullmann. The 20-minute program appears to be a rough edit of sorts, but features the three talking about Persona and how the film came to be, with the actresses also talking about their characters and the film (which Ullmann admits she didn’t fully understand.) Bergman also gives a rather candid personal interview, talking about his work and film in general. I was charmed when he admits he would rather go see Goldfinger than one of his own films or one by Antonioni, also paying a compliment to films of that ilk when he offers his admiration of the technical skills that go into those films, something he feels he could never do. He even expresses a strong dislike of Godard’s work when the interviewer mentions the possible Godard references in the film (which sort of surprised me since, at the very least, the opening title credits reminded me of the credits in Band of Outsiders, if a darker version of them.) I was expecting a fairly heavy interview for whatever reason but found this one fairly fun and loose.
The next interview is solely with Ingmar Bergman and was filmed for Canadian television in 1970. At only 8-minutes, with the director speaking in English, he talks about how Persona does mark a sort of transition in his work, whereas before he tackled the idea of loneliness and whether there was a God, he no longer felt any of that anymore and his films begin to reflect that. I almost feel I was missing some sort of context to the interview and I feel it’s probably part of a bigger one, but it’s a good inclusion nonetheless, with Bergman addressing a transition in his work.
The next set of interviews were recorded recently for this Criterion release, with one featuring actress Liv Ullmann. This looks to have been cut from the same sit-down they would have done with her for their Autumn Sonata release. Here she talks about the production and the experience. She again admits she didn’t entirely understand the script at the time, though that didn’t stop her. She felt hampered by the fact her character was mute but she felt Andersson made it easier for her to play off of her, to “react” to her. Surprisingly it sounds like a few of the film’s more famous moments were improvised. Though the opening montage was actually scripted—according to Cowie in his visual essay on this set—Ullmann mentions the scene where the two characters’ faces merge was actually made up in the editing room (apparently neither Andersson nor Ullmann recognized that the image was composed from both their faces.) I like Ullmann’s interviews, as they always seem very honest (she often criticizes her own performances, as she does here) and this one is no different.
Paul Schrader next talks about the influence of Persona, not just on him but on the industry as a whole. Calling it the “second shot in a revolution” (the first shot, according to him, being either Breathless or the French New Wave as a whole) he talks about the stylistic choices and the film’s desire to make you aware you are watching a film and that it’s aware that it’s a film. He also talks a little about how he was first introduced to Bergman’s work and this film. At 11-minutes it’s fine with some decent insights, though I feel maybe getting Cowie to do an interview would have proven more fruitful (though undoubtedly I’m possibly still annoyed at Schrader for the awful interview he gave on Criterion’s edition of Tiny Furniture.)
Criterion then includes 18-minute’s worth of silent on set footage, taken during the filming of Persona. In my head I guess I always imagined the atmosphere on a Bergman set would be dour but that never seems to be the case and this footage further proves that. Though there is plenty of footage showing the director work with his actors, setting up shots, and general discussions between the crew, you can see that the set was actually a fairly loose and fun atmosphere. There’s plenty of laughing and general goofing off to be found, there’s also, at the conclusion of the footage, what appears to be a sort of sendoff using the dolly track. The footage is silent as I mentioned before, but the feature has scholar Birgitta Steene narrate over it. She talks a little about how the production came to be but for the most part simply tries to discern what we’re seeing on screen and throwing in bits of “trivia” so to speak, even going as far as commenting on the clothes that Bergman would wear while working. The commentary probably wasn’t necessary but I enjoyed this inclusion nonetheless.
The big supplement, though, would be the presence of the 2012 documentary Liv & Ingmar. The 84-minute film is basically an extended interview with Liv Ullmann, as she recalls her relationship with Bergman, from first meeting him as a shy girl on the set of Persona through their (rather uneven by the sounds of it) romance, and the years after it broke up and how they remained close friends. Ullmann comes off very honest and doesn’t skirt around many things, delivering a fairly vivid portrayal of the man, faults and all. Getting past the personal relationship (which is fairly touching as she obviously loved the man) I was most intrigued listening to her talk about their professional relationship and the films they worked on together. It’s an engaging conversation and it’s aided by the fact the film, directed by Dheeraj Akolkar, tries to elevate the film past a basic talking-heads piece with some lovely photography and some decent placement of archival footage.
The film also gets a 1080p/24hz high-definition transfer and is presented in the ratio of about 1.78:1.
The supplements then close with the film’s American theatrical trailer. Interestingly the trailer is in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The DVD presents Liv & Ingmar on the second single-layer DVD (the feature being enhanced for widescreen televisions) while the other features appear on the first dual-layer disc, along with the film.
We then get a rather thick 56-page booklet, which first features a lengthy 15-page essay on the film by Thomas Elsaesser, who, in a somewhat round-a-bout way, tries to weed his way through the film’s puzzles, from character psychology and social behaviours to the blurring of fantasy and reality. Next are a translated reprinting of a series of interviews performed with Bergman taken between 1968 and 1969. Bergman talks about Ullmann, how he created some of the more dreamlike scenes in the film, and explaining particular moments in the film. A reprinted interview with Bibi Andersson then closes of the booklet, where the actress talks about her experience working with Bergman, commenting on a few of the films she did with him.
I was disappointed by the lack of a commentary; I was actually hoping that Cowie may provide one, but alas that’s not the case. I also found it disappointingly slim on the analytical material I would have expected to come from Criterion, especially for a film this dense, but the booklet at least fills that gap decently enough. I admittedly enjoyed going through most everything on here, getting a lot of background information about the production, and was especially thrilled with the inclusion of Liv & Ingmar. Yet I actually caught myself wishing Cowie—who I’ve always found a great resource on Bergman’s work on Criterion’s releases—had been called on to offer more. 8/10