Cries and Whispers

Cries and Whispers ★★★★

"Pray for those of us left behind on this dark and miserable earth beneath a cruel and empty sky."

Coming off back-to-back duds to begin the 1970s, Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman revitalized his art house bona fides with the macabre period chamber drama Cries and Whispers (Viskningar och rop). Shot in luridly saturated color by longtime collaborator and master cinematographer Sven Nykvist, Bergman's oneiric four-hander unfolds in a late-nineteenth century manor house where estranged and profoundly unbalanced sisters Maria (Liv Ullmann) and Karin (Ingrid Thulin) are presiding over the deathbed of their cancer-riddled sister Agnes (Harriet Andersson). Their presence is essentially a formality, however, as they leave all of Agnes' needs—even those designated by honest Abe Maslow—to steadfast nursemaid Anna (Kari Sylwan), whose reward is to be treated mostly with contempt both out of class-oriented thoughtlessness and because she represents a walking reminder of everyone else's callousness. When Agnes finally succumbs (for a while, anyway), it appears a mitigatory reconciliation may be possible for the surviving sisters, but in the cold light of day even this morsel of hope proves illusory.

Bergman's characters are archetypes but interesting ones at that. Mileage may vary depending on one's proclivity for psychosexual antics and pointed symbolism, but in any event the film is worth seeing on the basis of Nykvist's gorgeous photography alone. Come for the famous crimson wallpaper—stay for the proto-Piano Teacher genital mutilation. Avoid if you're opposed to full-on hysterical shrieking because all three principals get at least one occasion to really let it rip.

This film is not half as depressing as these last two Knicks results and that Champions League Final. My disposition is bleak, dear readers.

Some stray notes:
-I ALONE COULD NOT JOIN IN THE MERRIMENT
-YOUR ARGUMENTS HAVE ALWAYS BORED ME
-I HAVE NO NEED OF PARDON
-NOTHING BUT A WEB OF LIES—EVERY BIT OF IT
-I DON'T WANT YOU TO BE KIND TO ME
-MAY I HEAR MADAME'S OPINION?
-STAY WITH ME UNTIL THE HORROR IS OVER
-COME WHAT MAY, THIS IS HAPPINESS

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