Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Monday, March 24, 2008


CRIES AND WHISPERS (Viskningar och rop/1972). Director Ingmar Bergman.

Two sisters and a personal maid attend their sister's agonizing death at their family estate, ruminate about the tribulations of the past, and give vent to repressed passions and resentments. Dying Agnes (Harriet Andersson), who has apparently had a loving physical relationship with her maid Anna (Kari Sylwan), stayed on the childhood estate while her sisters Karin (Ingrid Thulin) and Maria (Liv Ullmann) married -- unhappily it seems -- and went off. It would be easy to dismiss Cries and Whispers as a weird movie about screwed-up sisters were it not for its powerful moments, acting, and images. Bergman's screenplay seems at times more like a collection of unformed ideas -- often with childish shock value -- than a fully realized work of art; there are stupid sequences that border on black comedy. The movie is famous for such scenes as when Karin mutilates herself sexually with a piece of glass (that's one way to get out of having sex with your wizened husband) and the pieta-like display with Anna holding Agnes in her arms (pictured). There has been much debate about the relationship between Agnes and Anna, but when the latter kisses and gets in bed with the former earlier in the film, it is clear that this is something she is used to; the two are definitely lovers. Karin and Maria's feelings for each other are a bit more ambiguous (at one point Maria seems to come on to her sister. One suspects Bergman was more intrigued/turned on by the idea or sensuality of lesbianism than with seriously exploring the subject.) The acting is so raw that at times the film is difficult to watch. Harriet Andersson has such an expressive face that she seems to sum up the character's whole life in one awakening close-up. While Bergman eschews the Hollywood-style sentimental, underscored treatment, it might have made this film more moving and meaningful, especially as it concerns Anna, the one who loved Agnes the best, being summarily dismissed by the family at the end with barely a keepsake. Very well-photographed by Sven Nykvist.

Verdict: Slow-moving and not for everyone but not without its rewards. ***.

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