Cries and Whispers (Ingmar Bergman, 1972, Sweden)

        Made after a period of creative dilemma in Bergman’s career, Cries and Whispers marked a return to form for the Swedish auteur and reaffirmed his prominence on the international stage. The film was made for very little money, with Bergman enlisting most of his regulars on a deferred salary. The film – released by noted B-movie producer Roger Corman in the United States – became one of the first foreign language films ever to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. The film was notably a critical and commercial success in Bergman’s native Sweden, where audiences were often less than kind to his films.

Ostensibly a chamber piece evocative of the great works by Strindberg and Chekhov, Cries and Whispers takes place almost entirely in a country manor at the turn of the century. The film tells the story of the last days of Agnes (Harriet Andersson), who has been dying of uterine cancer. She is accompanied by her nurse Anna (Kari Sylwan), and her two sisters – Maria (Ingrid Thulin) and Karin (Liv Ullman). When not centered on Agnes’s suffering, the film is retold in flashbacks – and sometimes fantasy sequences – that are bracketed by closeups of the various actresses that fade to red.

Cries and Whispers is a challenging film, deeply psychological in its examination of roles of motherhood, femininity and sexuality. The frigid Maria – seemingly unable to feel anything – is countered by her sister Karin, who is the precise opposite. Meanwhile Anna as the nurse becomes a maternal figure to the dying Agnes, while at the same time we understand her as the only one who truly cares about her. The character of Anna brings in a class dimension to the work, which was not particularly present in Bergman’s films up to this point. Sven Nykvist captures the film in reds that evoke something primal.



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