When I saw Ingmar Bergman's Persona in 1967, I was pretty much baffled. Oh, I understood the translated dialogue, and I understood the general idea that the two women were similar and possiby melding into one, whatever that might mean, but I didn't understand what it all signified, or how the "plot" was related to the repeated abstract collages and to the heavy-handed religious symbolism. It's hard to recall whether I was intimidated by the film or resented it -- I think both, alternately and sometimes simultaneously. Did I mumble under my breath, "pretentious fraud?" I can't say for sure.
I saw Persona again last night. I would like to tell you all, faithful readers, that I have grown and matured into a discerning viewer, and that the once-opaque film is now transparent. But I can't. It's still just as mysterious as it was almost fifty years ago. And I'm just as slow, or insensitive, or unaesthetic.
Even the "self-reflexive" moments -- i.e. when the audience is allowed to see the camera -- seem obvious and not especially clever. Everyone has always known that films are films. So what?
Inasmuch as I've seen many more films by Bergman (and many that I admire tremendously), I am prepared to indulge the auteur. I think Persona is just so personal to Bergman that it doesn't communicate. Whatever else it might be, it's astonishingly self-indulgent. I confess that, at heart, I'm still suspicious of the people who claim to understand and who are eager to explicate.
To the MGM DVD of Persona, an interview with Bibi Andersson, who spoke almost all the film's dialogue, was appended. Ms. Andersson said that she knows that some people considered Persona to be Bergman's masterpiece, but that she herself didn't understand it.
I admire her candor.