Cries and Whispers (Swedish: Viskningar och rop) is a brilliant film from Ingmar Bergman, dealing with human suffering. As with the next film I have here included, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant,in Cries and Whispers women dominate and men are only introduced to reinforce the intensity of their lot. From the four characters here represented they are anything but nice. But then considering how they have so long been hemmed in by gender politics these are survivors (of their subservient role), in terms of both gender and sexual politics, it would be too much to expect them to be sweet under adversity.
In fact the film is loaded with adversity of pain both physical and psychological kind, that each of these four characters undergo.
‘The movie is built out of a series of emotionally charged images that express inner stress, and Bergman handles them with the fluidity of a master… Each sister represents a different aspect of woman—woman viewed as the Other—and the film mingles didacticism with erotic mystery.’— Pauline Kael
Cries and Whispers takes place at an old English manor and revolves around four women: Agnes (Harriet Andersson), Maria (Liv Ullmann), Karin (Ingrid Thulin) are sisters while and Anna (Kari Sylwan) is the faithful maid of Agnes.
Agnes, the owner of the manor, is a young, virginal woman terminally ill with womb cancer. Agnes’ sisters, Maria and Karin, are unhappily married and have come to the manor to help take care of their dying sister. The film depicts Agnes’ last two days of life in terrible agony and her death. As with most of Bergman films religions plays a vital role. Here the role of religion is examined in context of physical torment of death and disease. The name Agnes means lamb and it serves as a clue to her death that resonates with death and passion of Jesus on the cross. Towards the end the scene where Anna cradles the lifeless body of Agnes is like a tableau, a visual reminder of Michelangelo’s Pièta. Agness is a kind of martyr who serves to bring the two sisters to open up emotionally at least for a short while. The chaplain who administers last rites to Agnes, seems to represent organized religion and his confession of his lack of faith gives the whole film a depth because of the religious motif is consistently sustained in so many ways. Males, as represented by the doctor and the Chaplain, are completely useless in providing any comfort to Agnes. Also, Karin and Maria’s husbands utterly fail to understand the emotional needs of their wives.
The tragedy of human suffering is not that it is visited once in a life time but that echoes in memory even after death of someone. But as much sisters might grieve over their lost chances the pain of neglect shall linger on. As Vladimir says in Waiting for Godot, ‘Astride of a grave and a difficult birth. Down in the hole, lingeringly, the grave digger puts on the forceps. We have time to grow old. The air is full of our cries. (He listens) But habit is a great deadener.’ (Act-II)
The film was written and directed by Ingmar Bergman. It stars Harriet Andersson, Kari Sylwan, Ingrid Thulin and Liv Ullmann.
Unlike most of Bergman’s films, Cries and Whispers uses saturated colour, in particular crimson. ‘All my films can be thought in terms of black and white, except for Cries and Whispers. In the screenplay, I say that I have thought of the color red as the interior of the soul. When I was a child, I saw the soul as a shadowy dragon, blue as smoke, hovering like an enormous winged creature, half bird, half fish. But inside the dragon, everything was red’. This quote from Bergman I used already in part while discussing The Seventh Seal.
‘The color red dominates almost every single scene that takes place inside the manor,… and most probably, is also used as an allegory for the interior of the womb. White is a color often linked to the virginal Agnes, and stands symbolically for sexual repression. Finally, black is a color that Bergman has consistently associated with priests and Christianity in his films.’( quoted from Marco Lanzagorta)
For his work on this film, Sven Nykvist won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography, and the film was also nominated for Best Costume Design, Best Director, and Best Writing, Story and Screenplay Based on Factual Material or Material Not Previously Published or Produced. Unusual for a foreign language film, it was also nominated for Best Picture, not for Best Foreign Language Film.
In closing let me quote from the master, “I believe that the film—or whatever it is—consists of this poem: a human being dies but, as in a nightmare, gets stuck halfway through and pleads for tenderness, mercy, deliverance, something. Two other human beings are there, and their actions, their thoughts are in relation to the dead, not-dead, dead. The third person saves her by gently rocking, so she can find peace, by going with her part of the way.”
— Ingmar Bergman, from his workbook for
Cries and Whispers (22 April 1971)
* Harriet Andersson — Agnes
* Kari Sylwan — Anna
* Ingrid Thulin — Karin
* Liv Ullmann — Maria (and her mother)
* Anders Ek — Isak, the priest
* Inga Gill — Story teller
* Erland Josephson — David, the doctor
* Henning Moritzen — Joakim, Maria’s husband
* Georg Årlin — Fredrik, Karin’s husband
* Ingrid Bergman — Spectator (as Ingrid von Rosen)
* Lena Bergman — Maria as a child
* Lars-Owe Carlberg — Spectator
* Malin Gjörup — Anna’s daughter
* Greta Johansson — Undertaker
* Karin Johansson — Undertaker
* Ann-Christin Lobråten — Spectator
* Börje Lundh — Spectator
* Rossana Mariano — Agnes as a child
* Monika Priede — Karin as a child
* Linn Ullmann — Maria’s daughter
Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Produced by Lars-Owe Carlberg
Written by Ingmar Bergman
Music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Frédéric Chopin
Cinematography Sven Nykvist
Editing by Siv Lundgren
Running time 91 min
Anna:[reading Agnes’ journal entry] “Wednesday the third of September… The tang of autumn fills the clear still air but it’s mild and fine. My sisters, Karin and Maria have come to see me. It’s wonderful to be together again like in the old days, and I am feeling much better. We were even able to go for a little walk together. Such an event for me, especially since i haven’t been out of doors for so long. Suddenly we began to laugh and run toward the old swing that we hadn’t seen since we were children. We sat in it like three good little sisters and Anna pushed us, slowly and gently. All my aches and pains were gone. The people I am most fond of in all the world were with me. I could hear their chatting around me. I could feel the presence of their bodies, the warmth of their hands. I wanted to hold the moment fast and thought, “Come what may, this is happiness. I cannot wish for anything better. Now, for a few minutes, I can experience perfection. And I feel profoundly grateful to my life, which gives me so much.
David: Come over here Maria. Look at yourself in the mirror. You are beautiful… but you have changed. These days you cast rapid, calculating, sidelong glances. You’re gaze used to be direct, open, and without any disguise. Your mouth is an expression of discontent and hunger. It used only to be soft. Your complexion has become pallid, you use make-up. Your fine, broad forehead now has four creases above each eyebrow… And this fine contour from the ear to the chin… it’s no longer quite so evident. That’s where complacency and indolence reside… Look here, at the bridge of the nose, why do you sneer so often, Maria?… Beneath your eyes, those sharp, barely visible wrinkles of boredom and impatience.
Maria: You’ve changed. Is there someone else?
David: There always is. Besides, I thought the problem didn’t interest you.
Maria: It doesn’t.
Karin: It’s true. I think… about suicide. I’ve often thought about it. It’s… it’s disgusting. It’s very degrading and everlastingly the same.
Karin: [to Maria] You look so disconcerted. You thought our talk would be different, didn’t you? Do you realize I hate you and how foolish I find your insipid smile and your idiotic flirtatiousness?
Karin: How have I managed to tolerate you so long and not say anything? I know of what you’re made – with your empty caresses and your false laughter. Can you conceive how anyone can live with so much hate as has been my burden? There’s no relief, no charity, no help! There is nothing. Do you understand? Nothing can escape me for I see all!
(Ack:wikipedia, Marco Lanzagorta,imdb)
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