The Coolidge Corner Theatre hosted actress Liv Ullmann on Tuesday, May 24 for a special 50th anniversary presentation of Ingmar Bergman’s seminal 1966 film, “Persona.” Following a brief introduction and the 35mm film screening, Ullmann was interviewed by Boston Globe film critic Ty Burr about her role in the film and her relationship with the acclaimed director.
Constantly ranked among the best films of all time and known as a landmark in arthouse cinema, the Swedish psychological drama revolves around two women: Elisabet (Ullmann), an actress who has decided to stop speaking, and Alma, the innocent young nurse charged with taking care of her in a remote seaside house. Once alone, the women find themselves increasingly unable to separate their identities from one another’s, creating a surreal exploration of the human psyche.
“It’s simple, it is so simple,” Ullmann said of the notoriously layered film in her introduction to the screening. “It’s about connecting. Films connect us to who we are deep inside and tell us why we are. Here, one woman goes silent because she is afraid of life and disconnects, though what she most wants is connection.”
Ullmann revealed the screening would be her first time viewing the film since its original release, a move that elicited an audible gasp from the audience. The Norwegian actress exhibited the kind of casual elegance that could only be brought about by experience as she took the stage afterward for the Q&A session.
“This movie was the best thing to ever happen to me artistically, and the best thing to happen with a friend and the father of my child,” Ullmann said, referring to her romantic involvement with the late Bergman at the time of production. “I am tremendously grateful to have known him.”
Burr kept his questions concise enough to draw out what any film enthusiast would like to know from Ullmann, but open-ended enough for the erudite actress to go beyond her experience with the film and into her other work in the industry. Nevertheless, Ullmann teased the audience with personal anecdotes and trivia from the set.
“I read somewhere that I had 14 or so words in the film, which of course is not true,” the 77-year-old actress said. “I only have one word in the movie, which is ‘nothing.’ I can say this for sure because 50 years ago, I know I never said anything else.”
Ullmann also shared an interesting anecdote–an ironic incident of life imitating art involving Bibi Andersson, the Swedish actress playing opposite Ullmann in Persona.
“She had a stroke and for seven years we cannot talk to each other,” Ullmann said. “I talk to her now; it’s like she has my part. I know that she knows who I am. She is alive and she would have enjoyed sitting here with me and experiencing this.”
Photo by Juan A. Ramirez