Thursday, October 23, 2008

Cries and Whispers (1972) Film Review - Ingmar Bergman

Plot Summary - Swedish language film, directed by Ingmar Bergman. Set at the turn of the last century, the film tells the story of a dying fortyish woman, Agnes (Harriet Andersson), facing her last few days of life as we see her in her bed, in agonizing pain. But the story is also about the three women who are in the house awaiting her death - her two sisters, Maria and Karin, and her devoted maid Anna - who then face what comes before them in their own futures. Agnes remembers in flashback her childhood and painful relationship with her mother, who she basically stalks around after, watching from behind sheer curtains. We see in flashback beautiful red-headed sister Maria (Liv Ullmann) having an affair with the doctor who currently treats Agnes. We also see some background for rather loony sis Karin, who has a pretty bad relationship with her boring, stern hubbie. Later in the film the two sisters, self-centered Maria and hard-hearted Karin, try to patch up what appears to be a years long bad sister relationship between them.

Review - This is a very unusual film (though not so unusual, as Ingmar Bergman films go). It's very quiet - mainly the sounds of the clock ticking, breathing, bells chiming, the wind, a chorus of whispering voices - and close to no background music. Many of the scenes are extreme facial close-ups of the different women looking into the camera - very interesting camerawork with softly filtered light coming through the windows, and red fades between scenes. The red color theme permeates the entire film, most scenes taking place in just a few rooms of the house, the bedroom, the "red drawing room", the dining room - all done with red painted walls and red upholstered furnishing. The women are often wearing white dresses, except when Maria is seen seducing the doctor in the flashback scene, she is dressed in a low-cut red lacy gown - when Karin is seen in flashback, in an uncomfortable dinner scene across the table from her husband, she wears black. The time at which each scene is taking place switches back and forth through the film, sometimes going back several years. The characters in this all have pretty odd relationships with each other, very complex and emotional - they're quite the dysfunctional family, especially that Karin who gets up to some pretty disturbing stuff. The scenes where poor Agnes is moaning in pain are hard to watch, but I found this film as a whole very fascinating and thought-provoking. I have liked every Ingmar Bergman film I've seen - I like these sort of slow, visual films. The DVD I saw of this is from the Criterion Collection and the print, of course, looks terrific. Rating - 9 to 10/10 stars

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