Reviews

'Cries and Whispers' Is a Life-Affirming Film About Death

To call Ingmar Bergman's red-drenched masterpiece Cries and Whispers essential to any collection would be a serious understatement.


Cries and Whispers

Director: Ingmar Bergman
Cast: Liv Ullmann, Harriet Andersson, Kari Sylwan, Ingrid Thulin
Distributor: Criterion
Rated: R
Year: 1973
US DVD release date: 2015-03-31

One could very well be tricked into believing that Cries and Whispers is the film adaptation of some epic, introspective novel that had existed the realm of world literature for centuries. Such is its power, scope, and delicate brilliance. Yet, there was only one man behind its inception, the legendary Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. Released in 1972, the film is the epitome of everything Bergman: it has tortured characters dealing with their mortality, it’s set in a lavish estate where material considerations are unimportant when compared to emotional poverty, and it centers itself on women who continuously fascinated and haunted Bergman.

The film opens in an opulent 19th-century mansion where we meet three sisters and their maid. Agnes (Harriet Andersson) lies on her deathbed as she is slowly consumed by cancer. Her sisters Karin (Ingrid Thulin) and Maria (Liv Ullmann) have come to spend her last days with her, but instead of giving her the comfort she needs as she faces death, Agnes’ sisters seem to be more uncomfortable than they’ve ever been, failing to provide the dying woman with any sense of peace.

We come to understand them better only as we visit their past through elaborate, theatrical flashbacks that don’t necessarily reveal “what went wrong”, but shed light on who these women are and who they became outside their family home. We learn that Maria had an affair with a doctor, after seeking the passion her husband didn’t provide her. We learn how Karin resorted to self-mutilation in order to keep her husband away from her. We also find out that Agnes always felt that she was being rejected by her mother. None of the events in question justify the cruelty the women resort to, but they make their behavior in the film logical, if not expected.

Bergman was never one for over-explanations, and in Cries and Whispers he proves his point by showing us that the peculiarities of each of the characters would never give us enough reasons to judge them. He shows us their flaws, but then points the mirror towards us, almost daring the characters to find the flaws in ourselves. Never one for facile psychology, Bergman instead fascinated with the concept of life being made out of endless nonsensical moments, and how despite their very cryptic nature they mold and affect who we are.

For example, by showing Karin splattering her face with the blood of her own body, Bergman doesn’t want to shock or disgust us. Instead, he invites us to embrace this lost woman who knows herself so little that she must create a mask for herself out of her own being. She is the only one who contains all the answers to her questions, the eternal paradox of being alive, for nobody can solve our existential problems for us.

Out of most of Bergman’s films, this one is notorious for its use of color. Even the fadeouts are to red, as opposed to black or white, and the director himself expressed that this is the lone film in his body of work that must necessarily be expressed in color. Red predominates over each scene; we see it in the walls, the rugs, the furniture -- blood, rouge, lipstick. Red is the color of blood and violence, which we are reminded can also be the color of love and passion. Sven Nykvist’s cinematography in the film is exquisite, with each frame being full of meaning, while also looking effortless.

While Cries and Whispers deals in loss and death, it is also surprisingly one of Bergman’s most generous films, even though he was notorious for his lack of faith. In this film, he does seem to contemplate the idea of hope as something that we should all consider.

Hope is seen through the maid Anna (Kari Sylwan) who remains mostly silent but appears in the right moments. Bergman infuses this character with such warmth and affection that one can be tempted to call her angelic, if it wasn’t so against the nature of the director. Bergman’s films are often called “depressing”, but there is something undeniably life-affirming in Cries and Whispers, perhaps because of its perfection as an art piece, or perhaps because it faces mortality with such lack of cowardice that it allows us to look straight into the eyes of something beyond us, something divine.

The Criterion Collection has reissued Cries and Whispers in a luxurious DVD set which includes a new 2K digital restoration, an introduction by the director, new interviews with Harriet Andersson, a new essay by filmmaker kogonada, a sumptuous interview with Bergman and collaborator Erland Josephson, a trailer, and an essay by Emma Wilson. To call this essential to any collection would be a serious understatement.

10

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.


20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta


Keep reading... Show less
Film

Hitchcock, 'Psycho', and '78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'

Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho (courtesy of Dogwoof)

"... [Psycho] broke every taboo you could possibly think of, it reinvented the language of film and revolutionised what you could do with a story on a very precise level. It also fundamentally and profoundly changed the ritual of movie going," says 78/52 director, Alexandre O. Philippe.

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017) denotes the 78 set-ups and the 52 cuts across a full week of shooting for Psycho's (1960) famous shower scene. Known for The People vs. George Lucas (2010), The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) and Doc of the Dead (2014), Philippe's exploration of a singular moment is a conversational one, featuring interviews with Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Marli Renfro, body double for Janet Leigh.

Keep reading... Show less

The Force, which details the Oakland Police Department's recent reform efforts, is best viewed as a complimentary work to prior Black Lives Matter documentaries, such 2017's Whose Streets? and The Blood Is at the Doorstep.

Peter Nicks' documentary The Force examines the Oakland Police Department's recent reform efforts to curb its history of excessive police force and systemic civil rights violations, which have warranted federal government oversight of the Department since 2003. Although it has its imperfections, The Force stands out for its uniquely equitable treatment of law enforcement as a complex organism necessitating difficult incremental changes.

Keep reading... Show less
6

Mary Poppins, Mrs. Gamp, Egyptian deities, a Japanese umbrella spirit, and a supporting cast of hundreds of brollies fill Marion Rankine's lively history.

"What can go up a chimney down but can't go down a chimney up?" Marion Rankine begins her wide-ranging survey of the umbrella and its significance with this riddle. It nicely establishes her theme: just as umbrellas undergo, in the everyday use of them, a transformation, so too looking at this familiar, even forgettable object from multiple perspectives transforms our view of it.

Keep reading... Show less
7
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image