Saturday, February 28, 2009

Cries and Whispers (1973) or Forget Death, What About Life?

Swedish: Viskningar och rop
So I have been wanting to blog about an Ingmar Bergman film for a while now.  I just don’t know where to start.  He might be my favorite of European directors.

His films are like poetry…not lengthy novels, but poetry via images, that demand your focus.  Unlike a novel where the character may explain his deepest desires in a few pages, Bergman’s films are like poetry in where you have to decipher the meaning in brief images—which can be interpreted differently by each viewer. The images seep into my mind subconsciously and I am captivated by the film.  His movies, in my experience, awake my senses and puts on the screen my deepest fears and dreams.  Bergman has the ability to touch my soul…and after each of his movies, I am enlightened…his movies stay with me forever. In my day to day life, I ponder back to a particular issue provoked by a Bergman movie.

So I guess I’ve decided on a Bergman film: Cries and Whispers.  This is a movie that I compare most dramatic films to.

The film, in a nutshell, is about two women who wait for their sister to die.

Writing about it now, I feel skeptical about how this movie worked, but it just did.

This movie made me realize about how trivial my concerns are and how to live in the moment.  (What do you know, an intensely tragic film taught me that lesson).


The two women, Karin (Ingrid Thulin)and Maria (Liv Ullman) are two women who struck me as two different aspects of my psyche:

Karin is a loved starved woman who, in a very memorable scene, shatters a wine glass and rubs it against her genitals, then smears the blood across her lips, daring her husband to come near her.

While, Maria is a beautiful, passionate woman with flaming red hair—though vain and indifferent to anything that doesn’t involve her.  She starts an affair with a doctor although she has a suicidal husband.

Yeah, so affairs, and suicide and self-mutilation and all that baggage.  Yes, these people have issues.

Their problems consume them so much that other matters start to seem so inconsequential-- like the sister dying from an incurable cancer, Agness (Harriet Andersson).

Agness’ illness takes a toll on the two women.  They take turns staying up along with their housekeeper, Anna (Kari Sylwan).

Yes, amidst all this, the one woman who is not related, serve to connect these three sisters.


There is one particular gut-wrenching scene where Agness is extreme pain and her own two sisters just watch her writhe in her four post bed (similar to Linda Blair in The Exorcist).  The two are helpless.  Thankfully, they have Anna, who is the one person able to comfort Agness. It works out well since Agness called for Anna and not one one of her sisters.  In what may be her dying moments, Agness calls out for Anna.

I used to think the two sisters incredibly weak and heartless, but now, years later after some life experience, I can relate to them: it is not easy to see a loved one in pain—especially when there is nothing you can do to soothe their woes.

Well, anyways, you can probably form your own opinion about the film, I am just sharing my experience with it. 

There isn’t much dialogue, so only a light reading with the subtitles if you can’t comprehend Swedish. This movie comes so close to being like a dream for me (well, most Ingmar Bergman movies are.) The effect of Bergman’s films in my life is incalculable—since Bergman, my dreams have altered and forever changed my perspective on the significance of certain images and how it can impact the rest of my senses and my soul. And how movies aren’t just for entertainment, but it can also serve to better understand my own humanity.

I believe this movie to be Ingmar Bergman’s peek. He also has his best cast, which I feel, blended two periods of his filmmaking persona. The pre Liv Ullman period and the post.

Lots of memorable moments…the most memorable of which is that red room.  Crimson red. (Sven Nykvist at one of his bests!) I think I read in some Bergman book that that image of the crimson room came to him in a dream…as if this is what the inside of a serpent, cut in half, looks like.

Anyways, I felt compelled to write about this movie first because it is the one movie that stayed with me in such a dramatic way.  If you actually give it a chance, I believe this movie has the ability to change your life too.  If not that, then the possibilities of  what filmmaking may accomplish.


Jonas Nordin said...

Great review! For some reason Cries & Whispers is one of my top five Bergman films. It's strikingly beautiful and slow but not very easy to watch. I often think of Peter Greenaway when I see it as many of his films gives me the same feeling. I can't really tell what it is that makes it so special but I guess that's part of the magic.

Nik said...

I am so glad you said that Jonas!
I am glad to hear that someone also gets that indescribable feeling after watching that movie. Then again, I feel that after watching any Sweedish movie, or Garbo film, or Ingrid Bergman film, or the master that is Mauritz Stiller...

You Swedes seem to posess that extra je ne se quois...

I am not familiar with Peter Greenway, so I'll be sure to look him up! Thanks for the tip buddy!:)