Written by: John White on February 24th, 2006
Theatrical Release Date: Sweden, 1972
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Cast: Harriet Andersson, Kari Sylwan, Ingrid Thulin, Liv Ullmann,.Anders Ek, Inga Gill, Erland Josephson
DVD released: June 19, 2001
Approximate running time: 91 mins
Aspect Ratio: 1.68:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono (Swedish and English)
DVD Release: Criterion
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $29.95
“By the early 1970’s, I had made some dubious films, but earned quite a lot of money” Ingmar Bergman from the Magic Lantern
Agnes is dying and she is in great pain. She is reassured when her two married sisters, Karin and Maria, join her devoted servant, Anna, to look after her as her illness nears it’s end. Agnes remembers how distant she felt from her mother and how she resented her sisters’ closeness to her. Maria on seeing Agnes’ Doctor is reminded of the affair they had and her husband’s failed suicide. Karin is reminded of a previous visit to her family home when she cut her genitals with broken glass rather than be intimate with her loathsome husband. When Agnes dies, Maria reaches out to Karin and is told she is hated by her but when Karin regrets her words they seem to become close again. Anna dreams that Agnes calls to her and the sisters as a corpse. In the dream Karin is disgusted by Agnes request for intimacy, and Maria is scared by the responsibility, and only Anna goes to help Agnes. The sisters’ husbands arrive and Anna is given notice, when the sisters leave Maria rejects the cold Karin.
Cries and Whispers was made by Bergman by convincing his actors to be shareholders in the film, spending his own savings and borrowing the rest. It struggled to get a distributor internationally and eventually he settled for an American firm more known for soft pornography to release it. When theatres which had prepared to show Visconti’s the Leopard found that film was late they bought up Cries and Whispers to show instead. The film became Bergman’s greatest commercial success.
Like most of Bergman’s films, Cries and Whispers is about love, sex and death. It is a film which is harsh and despite it’s conclusion on a happy memory of being loved, it is a film about how when we grow up we also seem to grow away from one another. A film where marriage is an empty charade or a desperate sacrifice of self and where closeness is momentary and illusory. The three sisters include an unfaithful wife, a frigid lover and an unloved child. Anna the servant is the best of the women but only because Agnes’ illness allows her to nurse Agnes like the memory of her dead child. In fact Anna’s loyalty is punished with the sack and cynicism whilst the sisters’ bond proves entirely hollow.
Cries and Whispers is a visceral film and the pain of Agnes is so effectively realised that I found myself gagging with her. Similarly Karin’s self harm is disturbing and Maria’s cowardice is hateful. The harsh irony of the priest who talks of Agnes’ “peaceful” death and asks that she should put a word in for the living with God is as angry a representation of religion as Bergman has ever shown.
This is one of the best photographed and set designed films ever made – the endless reds, blacks and whites and the scary intense close-ups. Bergman also plays with sound brilliantly with voice-overs from the diary, whispers of the past that deafen the present, and a wonderful sequence when kind words between Karin and Maria are drowned by music.
Cries and Whispers is a masterpiece from the greatest living film-maker.
Criterion have presented Cries and Whispers in Anamorphic Widescreen. The colours are extremely vivid and perhaps the whites are over emphasized in the contrast levels. The print is sourced from a high definition master and shows a mild amount of grain. The sound is excellent and dual language options are available for those who like their films dubbed.
The disc also includes a rare 52 minute interview with both Bergman and Erland Josephson where they cheerfully admit what crap fathers they were and Bergman tells of why he punched a critic to get him away from reviewing his films.
This an excellent presentation and superior in terms of print and the interview to the Tartan R2 release. It is unlikely to be bettered so it is a safe purchase of a great work.
For more information about Cries and Whispers and other titles released by Criterion visit their website.