CRIES AND WHISPERS - 1972 - movie - A Classic Review - directed and written by Ingmar Bergman – players are: Agnes (Harriet Andersson), Anna (Kari Sylwan), Maria (Liv Ullmmann), Karin (Ingrid Thulin) It was nominated for six Academe Awards.
The camera work was by Sven Nykvist who got an Oscar for this effort. It won a slew of awards given by: New York Film Critics, British Academy Film Awards, Golden Globe, National Board of Review, National Society of Film Critics, etc.
Bergman sealed himself off from the world and spent two months on his remote island while he concen-trated on writing this script. His films, which are often deeply personal and autobiographical, are a hard sell to the big audience and he had to use his own savings to help finance his project. As a symbol of their faith in his artistry, the lead players and the cameraman, Nykvist, loaned their salaries to keep the production afloat.
I first saw this film at 12 noon the day it opened in 1972. Along with the rest of the audience, I staggered out of the theater and into the sun, thinking filmmaking had entered into a new realm and that Bergman had just revealed for our benefit, his superior
insight into the brooding power of family relationships.
Two sisters have come together to witness the death of their older sister, Agnes, who after 12 years of suffering with stomach cancer, is dying and in great pain.
The fulcrum upon which this story sits is the long-held animosity they feel towards each other. We never really know which small indiscretions or what purposely hateful acts may have precipitated the palpable dislike these three sisters have held for each other throughout their entire lives.
Before I go any further, I have a basic complaint. I realize that Agnes’s eminent death is crucial to Bergman’s story but he’s chosen to depict her dying while suffering unbearable and unstoppable pain. This is quite unbelievable, since this story takes place at the end of 19th century, when opium combined with alcohol – laudanum - had been commonly used and was well known as pain killer for three centuries. Morphine was well-known by the medical community by 1810. It was named after the Greek god of dreams, Morpheus.
Morphine addiction quickly became a serious problem. But around 1870 a cure was discovered by a German doctor and marketed under the name, Heroin. And at the end of the 1800s, when this movie takes place, Heroin had been available to the medical community for 30 years. It’s puzzling because Bergman had to be aware of this when he wrote the story. What makes it particularly vexing is that this historical conflict could have been avoided with a writing adjustment. OK Bergman, she could still be dying, but her death certainly would not have been agonizing.
The male roles, as depicted in this film, leave you with the impression that they lived in a world separate from women, and that men only occasionally, and disdainfully encounter them when family demands or sexual urges arise.
After watching this movie the memory of Bergman’s use of fade to a color as opposed to fade-to-black never left me. I was inspired and consequently, I got a couple chances to use the technique in my own small films. In retrospect, I now see how, in this movie, it became too much of a good thing. When a single element in any art form is over-used it draws attention to itself.
In my opinion he should have saved the red transition for only those moments that required dramatic emphasis; most of the time a standard dissolve, cut or a wipe would have been enough. However, it was an outstanding and original editorial touch directly motivated by the story and the set design. We don't know when decisions like these are made – during writing, while in production, or at the suggestion of the editor during post production.
In an inspired moment, Bergman dropped out the sound during an emotional confron-tation between Karin and Maria and came in with a mournful, solo, cello. I'm assum-
ing he wanted to use this technique as a short-hand method depicting how they might bring their life-long conflicts to a close. He decided to skip the tedious dialog and bring in the cello… works for me. But, unfortunately, it didn’t work for Karin and Maria. As the movie ends their deep hatred for each other endures.
Indeed, their long animosity quickly replaces their short-lived concern about about Agnes' painful death. They are obviously jealous that Anna, Agnes’s maid, had clearly replaced them in their dying sister’s life. Bergman has made Anna’s devotion to Agnes and her role in the household a central point in this story. She is unmarried, deeply religious, and prays for the soul of her recently dead daughter. Karin and Maria are quite happy to get her out of their lives with a small stipend and two weeks notice.
There is no happy ending here – the men will remain callous and unsympathetic, and the sisters will continue to play out their cold, hateful roles in whatever life is left ahead of them.