Cries and Whispers Reviews
In a nutshell, two sisters (Liv Ullman and Ingrid Thulin) are at the deathbed of a third (Harriet Andersson). Andersson's character is in pain, but the sisters have great difficulty empathizing with her. The three are cold and isolated from one another, and it's only the housemaid (Kari Sylwan) who provides any comfort.
Through flashbacks, the film gives insight into their characters. One of these is highly disturbing (stop reading now and avert your gaze if you're squeamish) - and has Thulin mutilating her genitals and smearing the blood on her face in front of her husband.
Some adjectives to describe the film: cold, bleak, slow, depressing...should I go on? It is emotionally honest, yes, but it doesn't ask the big questions about God, death, life, or love - it just shows us how sad our little existences can be, even when living in luxury as the three sisters do, and how pitiful dying is.
It was great to see Harriett Andersson again, 20 years after her first Bergman film, 'Summer with Monika', and she has the movie's best line in the final memory, a happy (and profound) moment on a swing with her sisters: "I wanted to cling to that moment, and I 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..."
If only there were more of those moments, or philosophical questions raised. As it is, it's too painful to watch or recommend. I have a feeling the 5 Oscar nominations were more a reward for Bergman's films in the 50's and 60's, most of which were genius, and would have me thinking about them for hours afterwards. It's hard to imagine anyone giving 'Cries and Whispers' a high rating wanting to see it again.
As we follow the sick sister and her gruesome cries it turns into something strong and bleak. Even if it's very real it's also dreamy - nightmare'ish. At times it looks like a horror film, the cries are scary! The two sisters seem less touched by the third sister's condition, but the maid, Anna, is heartbroken. The study of the dysfunction and relation issues is strong and powerful. Scenes that are harder to figure appear and it feels a bit crazier and more psycotic. The blood red fade-outs with following whispers makes it a stand-out. Simple but effective.
Liv Ullman is mixturing up Swedish and Norwegian a bit, it's a bit weird that's never discussed as it seem. That part is a bit shaky, still she and the other actors are quite brilliant. A film filled with many emotions. Guilt, pain, lust, hate, grief and love. Death and religion is in the mix. It's a bit of everything sat in a bleak story that it's hard to find much positivity in.
One of the better films from the director I have seen as it stuck with me directly after watching it, while others seem to need quite some time to find it's place in memory.
8.5 out of 10 pieces of glass.
Bergman's usual focus on the mental processes of his characters is here, but with an added emphasis on the physical nature of intimacy, light touches and unspoken words communicating the desperate longing for emotional availability the sisters feel towards each other. This period of existential openness doesn't last long, however, as they retreat into the cold, safe isolation of their own minds, shrouding their conversations in reactionary social cues after time separates them from their experience with death.
Setting all of this against the constant presence of ticking clocks, Bergman suggests that we ultimately know nothing about anyone around us and never really will as we slowly inch towards the grave; as depressing as this is, there's no denying the intelligence with which it's communicated, the experience primarily dealing with the inevitability of isolation made riveting through the use of color, the deeply layered performances, and the affecting filmmaking that imparts this dour message. It may honestly be impossible to love those around us given the nature of the individual, but complete emotional openness is surely the only way we could ever begin to do so. Cries and Whispers is a desperate plea for this openness, lest we end up like the sisters it documents.