Women in Anguish (Thoughts on Vivre sa vie and Persona)

Sunday, November 14, 2010 8:24 AM By Simon

Of course, these two films have much in common, literally, anyway. Both portray women in various states of mental deterioration, one of whom is played the muse of a major European art director (Jean-Luc Godard and Ingmar Bergman, respectively). Both feature minimalistic black-and-white sets, monochronistic, limited, sometimes set up like a stage. Music often becomes a factor, both in-universe and omnipresent. One woman, with sexual hangups (prostitution and a rather dicy menage a quatre, again, respectively), will engage in long, philisophical conversations with people they barely know (a real philosopher and a forever-silent actress), and a woman has a strong emotional reaction to a movie or news broadcast early on, before the real turbulence has begun (The Passion of Joan of Arc and the Thích Quảng Đức suicide). I can't really draw any specific parallels between the endings, however, besides acts of extreme violence, which you could call both random, but it wouldn't be true. And they're both extremely experimental.

-Nana (Anna Karina) abandons her husband and infant song to pursue an acting career, but when her job at a record shop refuses to make ends meet, she turns to the more lucrative field of prostitution. During her tenure, she gains the world's most non-0threatening pimp, may or may not falls in love with a student (the way it is shot, silent talking with two sets of subtitles, makes me see it as ambiguous and dream-like, whether it really occured is entirely irrelevent), and, of course, things end in tragedy.

-Meditative and dryly comic in the way Godard often goes about things, the film is seperated into 12 seperate, self-contained episodes, he goes to great lengths to shatter the cinematic experience, outlining in title cards exactly what will happen in the succeeding segment, toying with sound and image at will, no real plot, and even the ending is senseless, with a whole story behind it that would have to be a different film, because we must never leave Nana's perspective.

-I kind of love Godard films, just because, at least in the 20th century, he could assault the ideals and norms of cinema with all the gusto he wanted, and nobody could stop him, because the end results were so delightfully weird, and weirdly delightfuly, and everybody loved them. This is one of those.

-The music of a comedy.

-Bibi Andersson stars as a nurse, Sister Alma, assigned to care for Liv Ullman's Elisabet, an actress who has suddenly and without warning gone catatonic, refusing to speak or move. This later changes to just talking. The two go out to a cottage at the seaside, alone to face their respective anxieties.

-This, too, toys with perception of reality in film, opening with a montage of vaguely disturbing images on a loose strip of film, and at one point in the middle the reel splits and burns, the sound going to high, before landing back at what is presumably a few scenes later, watching Elisabet walking about the kitchen, blurred, before quickly slamming back to normal.

-The fact that the two actresses' faces often overlap, and at the end, compltely intertwine, is terribly obvious from a 21st century perspective, but I suppose it was very novel back in the sixties. To which I say, oh fucking well.

-The music of a horror.

4 comments:

Mike Lippert said...

If 8 1/2 is the greatest movie about filmmaking that is actually about filmmaking than Persona is the greatest movie about filmmaking that isn't actually about filmmaking.

November 14, 2010 at 1:01 PM
Simon said...

Mike Lippert: How so?

November 15, 2010 at 6:26 PM
Mike Lippert said...

Well Simon, to try to say in a comment section what should rightfully require a whole essay: the entire concept of the film (because a concept is what it rightfully is) is that it explores Bergman's effective relationship to film itself. It first begins with a montage which, in a way, works out Bergman's life through film: an image from his earlier film The Devil's Wanton, a beloved childhood cartoon, the tarantula (Bergman's image for God, his interpretation, not mine, and so on).

The film is bookended by a young Bergman in a bedroom with images of Liz and Alma projected on a screen. They are beuatiful women but they are not real, they are simply reflections of simulacrum (composite images without an original) because they are the faces of actresses playing characters and not in fact real women. It's only half ironic that both were, at one point, Bergman's lovers.

The film then deals with two opposing women: the caregiver: real and emotional and the actress, fake and emtionally indifferent. The actress has reverted inside herself because she doesn't exist as a human being outside of the stage. Both womens' reactions to the horrifying sex story that is told is wholly telling.

Then the film burns up and reconstructs itself after alma steps on a piece of glass, the first human sensation she has maybe ever felt and thus, we need a new film, in which we even get a glimpse of Bergman and his crew manipulting a shot. The roles have changed, the actress can feel, and so goes the film until the truth of the matter is revealed jarringly in the infamous fash mesh in which Bergman shows complete control over these women, who do not exist but instead are simply images that he can manipulate of his own free will. In that sense it's the most personally perverse shot Bergman ever devised.

And then the child again, touching the glass, reaching out to these women, trying to escape. He grabs for real beauty and yet all he gets is cold glass for these women are no more than projections on a screen: a chemical reaction of light hitting film and being projected on a cold surface. In this sense, Bergman reveals that film is both love and pain: encapsultaion and isolation: within film Bergman is his own master, ability to make his lovers into anything he wants and yet he still ends up cold and alone with no more than images projected behind a gladd barricade.

November 15, 2010 at 8:18 PM
Simon said...

Thanks, Mike, for taking the time to write such a detailed and interesting explanation. I do love films commenting on themselves.

November 16, 2010 at 9:10 PM