29 November 2010

Current viewing (hystérie/contrôle)

Persona (1966), directed by Ingmar Bergman

Back in November 2008 I wrote on this blog about Steven Meisel's rendition of Bergman's famous film for Vogue Italia. Back then, though I was aware the fashion story referenced it, I hadn't seen the film - and was much more occupied with the likes of Meisel than Bergman, anyway.

Persona came up recently in Emanuelle André's cinema course 'Iconographie de la main au cinéma' at Paris-VII, where we focused on the opening scene, which comprises a series of seemingly disjunctive images potent with psychoanalytic references - slaughtered animal, erect penis, little boy caressing enlarged image of woman's face, impaled hand, etc. This opening scene serves as a preface or pretext for the rest of this brilliant, and beautiful film.

Oedipus and the concept of the 'hysteric' (woman), which was originally 'discovered' as a malady by Jean-Martin Charcot and later taken on by Sigmund Freud, are very present not only in this first scene but the whole film. Ostensibly it is the story of two women, an actress and her nurse, who go to live in a cottage by the sea in the middle of nowhere. They go there so the actress can recuperate from an episode where her voice suddenly disappeared during a rehearsal.

The film examines the women's relationship as it develops in such close proximity, notably the way their physical resemblance and the fact only the nurse can speak take effect on them both. Their personal histories and futures seem to intertwine, culminating in the very potent question of motherhood and the mix of obligation, guilt, (self-)love and jealousy associated with it. Eventually we begin to wonder who is who, who has done what, who is lying, who is faking, who is truthful, who is real, who is mother, who is hysteric, who is in control and, after all, what is 'control'? Can control itself be hysteric?


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