"Persona" Review: Comedic, Empathetic, and Surreal

This four-part miniseries is beautifully shot and evocative.
"Persona" Review: Comedic, Empathetic, and Surreal

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To be entirely honest I didn't know what to expect from Persona: a short-movie anthology currently playing on Netflix.

I knew it starred IU of Scarlet Heart Ryeo, and I knew that Persona was classified as "cerebral." I also knew that each episode was written by a different director, but beyond that, I had no clue as to what the content of Persona contained.

Was it a modern-day drama? A psychological thriller? Something supernatural, or a time travel story with fantasy elements? It turns out it's a bit of all three.

I'm still left with a few questions after watching this series, but overall Persona was lovely to sit down to and a great way to spend an evening.

The Good

Persona Review IU Sitting on Bench

Fans of arthouse cinema will love this one, as Persona is gorgeously shot and stylized. Each frame immediately draws the eye like a well-staged photograph. Even now a day after watching it, I find myself repeating those scenes in my head, trying to pick up the hidden meaning behind them.

There's the chickens in Kiss Burn staring directly into the camera; there's the close up on IU in Love Set, biting into the peach. Each of these scenes stands on its own, and the way they are color graded evokes a dreamy, slightly melancholic feel.

If you're a fan of odd narrative formats, you'll also love Persona, as it's not often that you see the same actress in four different films with different directors. IU was great in Scarlet Heart Ryeo—a historical time travel romance—but Persona was definitely a more complex show. It allowed IU to flex her acting abilities and she did so with skill.

While each of the stories in this anthology were engaging, the last two in particular stood out:

Kiss Burn is about two country girls discussing their first romantic encounter and how they can rebel from their parents. Walking at Night is about a man who helps a ghost let go of her worldly concerns after she dies.

Kiss Burn felt very much like 2017's The Shape of Water, with a sort of whimsical vibe endemic to a certain sort of fantastical storytelling. Walking at Night was deeply evocative, and prescient over the nature of grief:

"I want to make you remember that it wasn't your fault," the ghost tells the man when she explains why she's visiting him in particular. I found this speech to be so moving I actually ended up in tears, and the actors really sold the performance.

The Bad

Persona Review Girls Sitting Talking

While the cerebral, almost surreal aspects of these films are definitely haunting, they might be too weird for a general audience. I found myself struggling to figure out the motives of the characters in many of the scenes, especially in the second film, Collector.

These four films—despite their short length—also moved at an incredibly slow pace. If you're looking for an action movie or a film where the fantasy elements are blatant, Persona is definitely not it. It's fantastical and supernatural elements are very subtle.

The Verdict

An interesting thing to note about this series was that it was originally supposed to premiere on April 5, 2019.

Instead, it was postponed so as to not appear insensitive to the victims of the Gangwon Province Fire, which was a disaster that swept along the coast in South Korea. This delay is probably tied to the content of the third film, Kiss Burn. In it, the friend of the protagonist has a drunk firefighter as a father.

4 5 0 1
Four short films about four different characters in slice-of-life situations.
Four short films about four different characters in slice-of-life situations.
Total Score