One of Ingmar Bergman’s inspirations for Persona, his audacious midsixties masterwork, was a photograph of Liv Ullmann and Bibi Andersson. Fascinated by the interplay of their likenesses, Bergman soon conceived of a film starring the two women, a visually daring and psychologically penetrating chamber piece about the nature of identity that would change the course of all of their careers.
As critic Sheila O’Malley observes in the above video essay, made for the Criterion Channel on FilmStruck, Persona might represent the soul-baring apex of both of these actors’ extraordinary work for Bergman, but their impact on his oeuvre extends well beyond a single film. In Andersson, who began working with the filmmaker in the 1950s, Bergman found a performer to embody an irrepressible lightness and optimism that often masks greater depths of feeling, as evident in her radiant presence in films like Wild Strawberries, The Magician, and The Devil’s Eye. Meanwhile, Ullmann’s nine post-Persona collaborations with Bergman—with whom she also lived for a few years and had a child—were distinguished by their sheer emotional range, with her powerhouse candor fueling Shame, Scenes from a Marriage, Autumn Sonata, and other major works. Keep watching O’Malley’s piece for her close analysis of Andersson and Ullmann’s brilliantly fluid dynamic in Persona, which Bergman envisioned as “a sonata for two instruments.”