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Cries and Whispers (1972)


Diane
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Picked up this Bergman film last night at the library. For some reason, I thought it was on our Top 100 list, but no. The copy on the back of the film makes it sound like some pretty fascinating spiritual exploration, but after spending some time today scanning some reviews at Rotten Tomatoes, I'm wondering if I'm ready for this film...or if I should make it a priority, seeing as how there are plenty of other films at home waiting to be watched. The terms "disturbing," "overwhelming," and "devastating" somehow seem to pop up over and over again in reviews, with some writers hinting that they just can't convey how much this film might rattle a viewer. Hmmm. And there's a description of a scene involving a piece of glass that make me feel a bit faint. Ugh.

Has anyone here seen this? I searched, and it popped up in Russell's film journal from last year. Christian, you're a Bergman fan, right? Comments, anybody?

IMDB page

A couple of reviews:

Ebert

Berardinelli

Sure thing that it won't be the feel-good film of the summer!

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Guest Russell Lucas

Yeah. You know, despite seeing it only that time, some of the film's images are still extremely fresh in my mind. There was a brief thread about it about the same time I saw it. That scene you refer to with the glass shard did make me cringe, but there are several scenes in the film depicting emotional and physical pain which made me cringe even more. It's an affecting film, though it's difficult to call it conventionally affirming from a faith perspective. There's several moments of bleakness, but also a few moments of light tied to human connectedness and memory that hold out hope (or at least did to me). I suppose that sounds contradictory.

Yeah, it's definitely worth it.

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Leary. Is. Nuts. Over. This. Film.

-s.

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Thanks for the feedback. I hope we hear from (M) soon.

Okay, I will give it a try. I will be strong. I made it through Apocalypse Now; I will try to make it through this. Lest you think I'm being overly dramatic, um, maybe I should confess to actually fainting during a film in my health class in college. Sure, that was real-life accident footage, but I'm still easily freaked out, even if I know it's fake. So, during said glass-shard scene (and Darren's excellent writing just brought back the wooziness), I will probably hide my head under the covers. I gave into temptation to look during my health class, and look where that got me! Would have been ultra-embarrassing if it hadn't been so dark in there that few people noticed. embarassed.gif Don't know if that story is funny or sad.

Edited by Diane
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It's a great film, Diane -- quintessential Bergman -- although it's not the kind of movie I've craved seeing multiple times (I've watched it twice). Beautiful Sven Nyquist (sp?) color cinematography.

One caution: If you picked up the VHS, you should check carefully to see if you have the subtitled version. The first time I rented the movie, I was so desperate to see it that I settled for a dubbed version, although, to the filmmaker's credit, the original actors did the dubbing. It was one of the better dub jobs I've seen, and since the movie isn't too dialogue-heavy (if memory serves; there are several sequences with voiceovers, but that's not a dubbing problem), the dubbing doesn't sink the film. I liked the dubbed version enough to seek out the subtitled version later.

Come to think of it -- I own a copy of this movie! I have it on laserdisc, but I haven't hooked up my LD player since the "tree incident" during last year's hurricane. I've been so busy catching up with DVD titles that I haven't bothered to revisit the laserdiscs I've purchased over the years.

On a related note, I finally got around to watching Winter Light Monday night. Time to see if we've got a thread on that one. I'm still thinking it over.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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IIRC, I'm almost certain the version I have is the subtitled one (hooray).

Strange color coincidence: Currently watching Three Colors: Red, with this one being next on the list.

Edited by Diane
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I have to agree: A great film, particularly for its relentless intensity, its vivid cinematography, and the unnerving vulnerability exhibited by the actresses. However, I also have to agree that it's one I won't be revisiting very often. It's a strong, strong drink.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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I'm another fan of Cries and Whispers, though again I'd be happy to go the rest of my life without seeing that genital mutilation with the glass scene. There's also a scene where the sister who's dying wakes and seems convinced she's dying and it seems so horribly close to the reality of painful death. I watched this at a time when my father was dying of an illness and that terrible expression was something I saw on his face several times. I think I'd agree that it's a film to admire but not perhaps love. There'sa good review of it in one of the Pauline Kael anthologies, the same one with The Godfather II review in it if I remember rightly. I'm interested to see that someone's seen Winter Light as I think this may be the most spiritually profound Bergman and I see in the Pastor's determination to go ahead and say Mass in his cold church with his small doubting audience something very hopeful. There's also something about the Max Von Sydow character's conviction that apocalypse is nigh because the Chinese have the Bomb and there's no point going on anymore which calls to mind some of the spiritual panic which seemed to be evident (in Ireland anyway) in the aftermath of September 11. I nominated it as a film missed out by the first 100 spiritual films by the way. Bergman, I think, even when he's at his most sceptical does religion and faith the service of treating it more seriously than any other director (except maybe Tarkovsky and Bresson) and he has to be respected for that. I find it preferable to M Night Shymalam who seems very much on the surface about these things though I know a lot of people find him inspiring and it may well be that they're right and I'm wrong.

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To me this film was worth watching for the scene with the priest. There was more spiritual longing in the words of the priest than in entire films that try to be spiritual. The final dialogue between the two sisters was gut wrenching. Great film to watch once or twice.

Edited by MichaelRay

"Did you mention, perhaps, what line of industrial lubricants Jesus would have endorsed?"

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I've seen it. It's hard to even know where to begin here. This was my second Bergman film, having only seen The Seventh Seal. I was actually more engrossed in C&W. But again, this is one of those films that, for me, is problematic. I have to ask myself if I'm willing to send myself down such a dark path before I watch. Once's it's over, I wonder if the journey was worth it.

First, worth my time? Most definitely. Could I handle it? Well, I have to admit to fast-forwarding through that glass shard scene, but I definitely caught enough of what was going on there. Man, that was brutal. Much more graphic than I expected. But before we even cut to that flashback, Karin's silent cry of grief and pain that introduced that sequence was so piercing, so anguishing, that it clued me in to the fact that the scene I dreaded most was about to follow, giving me plenty of time to get into a psychological flutter. Sometimes I worry about scenes of that nature overshadowing an entire viewing experience for me. I need to quit harping on this and move on, I guess.

Having said all that, there's much I admire in this film. The use of color and cinematography are astounding. I love how the actresses' clothing and hair sometimes blend into the background, leaving only their faces exposed, and usually in half shadow.

And the acting! It's amazing how much can be expressed in so few words, and often only by extreme close-ups.

A film like this can lead to an uncomfortable (but profitable) amount of self-reflection, as I was forced to try to figure out just how much of myself I could see in the archetypes onscreen. How much of my soul harbors Karin's coldness? Maria's selfishness? Anna's goodness? And then there's the priest. I can think of many a Sunday where I've sat in church singing hymns, praying, and listening to sermons and really, honestly, not feeling much of anything, which is very troubling until I realize that my faith is based on what I believe and not what I feel. Emotions come and go, after all.

I loved the mesmerizing nature of the whole thing. The fades to red, the dream sequences, the shifting timelines. Anna's dream sequence toward the end was staggering, and I'm sure it will haunt me for some time. That was one of the most gut-wrenching, creepy, surreal things I've seen on celluloid for quite some time.

I'd advise anyone curious about watching this to make sure they are in the proper emotional state beforehand. Having so recently witnessed a family member's last days, Anges' struggles for breath, heightened by the fact that most of the film is so quiet, were harrowing. And that's even before the screaming begins.

Right now, anyway, I'm very glad I watched it. I do feel some strange desire to watch it again, to catch everything that might have confused me the first time, but I don't know.... A "strong, strong drink" indeed.

Edited by Diane
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Guest Russell Lucas

Those are great comments, Diane. This is a tough film to watch. The levels of emotional alienation and agony are intense even apart from the instances of physical pain. It's an admirable achievement to engage a film like this.

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(M), you're back! You have been missed, especially on this thread. Had to post just to bring this back to the first page.

FWIW, I did manage to rewatch most of this film before turning it back in to the library. Wow. My admiration grows. No doubt this difficult film will be a highlight of my viewing year. (Stops and realizes that "highlight" is not exactly the right word, but you get the idea.)

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Wow, what a great thread. I am nuts about this film. I absolutely hate it, it is terrible and horrible to watch, I cringe every time I am in a room with red walls now, and I really only recommend it to people with trepidation. It is awfully beautiful, an even more terrifying experience because it is such a beautiful one.

The film does little more than expose us to a really profound wound in a family and keeps poking at this wound repeatedly. Bergman said that the total redness of the film was designed to to make the film a raw, painful experience. It is literally like being inside of the flesh of these characters, and only briefly do we see out of the windows of the few rooms that the film takes place in. Just for the ending alone, this is my favorite Bergman film and takes us to the extremes of what he was trying to do his whole life with his films. The film is so rigidly paced and precise, every movement of every character seems scripted in minute detail, the camerawork is so clean it is unearthly. Bergman seems to intentionally strip his characters of any personality other than what comes out in the moments they express agony. It just seems that Bergman wants us to hold these people at arms length, he doesn't allow us to "identify" with them or pick sides between them or any of the traditional things that directors do to make us like their film. He just makes us watch these people.

"I received the most wonderful gift anyone can receive in this life, a gift that is called many things: togetherness, companionship, relatedness, affection. I think this is what is called 'grace.'"

This is probably Bergman's summary of what spirituality and/or legitimate religion is. But in his films it seems that this truth can only be found when it is too late, the best thing that such a realization can do for someone is to enable them to see their past a bit differently. I can't remember what DVD it is on, but on one of the recent releases there is a great interview of Bergman in which he talks about how he treated his wife and children. He basically expresses regret for having treated them with the same sterility that his films treat life, it is pretty eerie to see how much of his personality this way becomes so clear in his films. The point of Cries and Whispers seems to be what she finds written in the diary at the end, and in this interview Bergman echoed that in his own life.

Stef and I have talked quite a bit about films that are such terrible experiences, for some reason we both have really been influenced by some of these. It is always hard to say that something I "like" something like Cries and Whispers, because I really don't. And just saying that I "appreciate" it is a vast understatement. I bet Bergman would be honored for us to say that we were "affected" by it or something along those lines.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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Bergman said that the total redness of the film was designed to to make the film a raw, painful experience. It is literally like being inside of the flesh of these characters, and only briefly do we see out of the windows of the few rooms that the film takes place in.

You're reminding me of one incredible moment right when Anges dies. She becomes silent and still and appears to have already passed, but then her head turns and her eyes move toward the window, to the space outside of those red walls in that suffocating and haunted manor. Anna then reaches over and closes her eyes. Man, what an incredible way to show that her soul has fled the confines of that house, the confines of her own flesh.

It is always hard to say that something I "like" something like Cries and Whispers, because I really don't. And just saying that I "appreciate" it is a vast understatement. I bet Bergman would be honored for us to say that we were "affected" by it or something along those lines.

Yes, that's it exactly. I mean, you don't "enjoy" this. You can't say "I loved it!" I can think of few people I'd recommend it to. And if I did recommend it, I'd worry that friends would watch it, think I loved it, and believe it was time for some sort of intervention and a trip to the psychiatrist.

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I cringe every time I am in a room with red walls now

Yikes. I know just what you mean. And it's not just THAT movie... it's Twin Peaks, and several others as well. What is it about red rooms that freaks us out? (I'm sure Freud would have a field day with that...)

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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And part of the process of "hating" a film like this is because I hate what it exposes in the world as being true. That people are broken and torn and they do terrible things to each other as a result.

Then there are those films I hate because they are flat out loathesome, like Irreversible, but they are such incredible works of art. They are intentionally loathesome and terrible, yet they are doing something important.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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  • 4 months later...

Note to Vancouverites: Cries and Whispers will be playing here February 16, 18, 21 as part of the Cinematheque's Bergman retrospective.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 1 month later...

Kyrie.

I watched this film two and a half times today. Two and a half because I got half way through the first time, backed up to the beginning again and watched it twice. I just don't have the time to be doing that sort of thing these days, folks, but --

Oh, My, Word. Pick me up off the floor and send me to the psychiatrist, Diane, because I will readily admit that I have a new love. Only this is the kind of love that perhaps you recoil from in horror.

The roof has still not landed on this joint I call a home. I am afraid to go to sleep tonight.

Possible light spoilers1.gif to follow...

I was immediately caught up in the powerful performances alone. Two silent scenes early on grabbed my attention.

  • A mother calls to her daughter. The daughter shuffles forward, fearing a scolding she imagines will greet her. The mother, seeing the young girl’s lowered eyes, noticing her trepid walk, the beaten-dog shying of her eyes in fear, realizes at once: "I have scolded this child too much," and sorrow wells up in her eyes. She gazes on her young daughter with compassion; the daughter gently touches the mother's cheek. They share a tender moment.

  • A doctor makes a house visit to a dying woman. He listens to her abdomen, where the illness obviously resides. He touches her stomach and sides, and as he does so his face shows us all his concern -- he knows her time is approaching, and there's nothing he can do to stop it. This is not the look that the dying woman needs. This is not the gesture that she craves in her last days. She takes his hand and pulls it to her bosom. She closes her eyes in fear. His look of concern gives way to what she needs, which is a look of compassion, that of genuine concern. He touches her cheek in kindness. They share a tender moment.
Not even knowing a thing about the story or where it was headed, I was locked in by these powerfully acted, silent scenes. So often in film we find people saying too much. Writers need to come up with flashy scripts to "cool" their characters. Cries and Whispers, from the introductory scenes, barely gives us even a few sentences of a scripted utterance, but every expression clues us perfectly in to these characters' thoughts, perceptions and inner conflicts.

The touching of faces in driving emotional clarity persists:

  • The third touch on the cheek is that of Maria's husband to Maria. No words are exchanged but they both seem to know that he has an understanding of her infidelity. This shared moment, also silent, is not tender, but rather unnerving for both parties. The scene that follows is pure Bergman, where the husband has plunged a knife into himself. Of course this should have been a clue that we were entering Personaland, that place that Lynch would love to find a way to but only hacks at it through overt violence and sex. Bergman, the master, his guilt complexes and their dreams, are riveting when he's at the top of his game. I am amazed at his ability to not only reveal, but also in revealing, to conceal as well.

  • More face touches of course occur between the sisters, and these scenes readily speak for themselves. Maria wants to break through her sister's isolation; her sister continues, for whatever the reason, to hold to that isolation like it's a lover.
I understand the “hate” concept. I think (m) and I spent the better portion of a Flickerings night really trying to define the concept of hating the wreckage of the world no matter how well it is portrayed. But there were so many things to love about Cries and Whispers as an outstanding work of art alone.

Yes Jeffrey, the RED. I love (m)’s interpretation of the red being the lifeblood of the characters in this film. It actually does to this film what black does to good horror movies – it really creeps things out. Red, the color of the blanket lying over Agnes. Red, on practically every wall and curtain in that section of the house. Red, for the uncanny dream sequences in which the whispers were eerily heard.

And while we’re on the topic, I loved the ghostly whispering itself, which was heard alongside the static faces of the actresses blanketed in red. Ugh, I hear voices like that all the time! smile.gif The way it is depicted here is so perfect. It’s as if the voices of the past are rising up, all of their guilt… Or more likely all of The Bergman Guilt Complex ™ being channeled through his representatives and lit up.

The Doctor: Is there no absolution for such as you and I?

Maria: I haven’t any need of being pardoned.

I haven’t seen the whole interview that accompanies the Criterion disc yet, but I did watch a little bit of it, and Bergman talks about the guilt he carries regarding his nine children and his inability, perhaps even his failure, at fatherhood. He said that he could never liquidate the feelings of guilt that he carries, that indeed he was brought up in a generation of strictness that engrained guilt into a person’s psyche. But he also said that he channeled the complex itself into his filmmaking by becoming the best professional that he could ever be, that the guilt and the work ethic were very closely linked.

Some of Bergman’s statements are so Kierkegaardian that I wonder whether or not it would be fair to label him “The Kierkegaard of World Film.” Both had strict fathers that wrestled with God. Both created works that wrestled with all of these themes. The two were both of Scandinavian descent, and the two were both utterly brilliant.

Anna is the exit strategy from all this guilt. Even the way she held Agnes to her naked bosom and kissed her in her last days has to be one of the most touching and affectionate acts of human compassion ever demonstrated in film. Our response when dealing with the dying is often that of Maria – we are genuinely concerned and we would like to help, but our fears actually lock us outside of our ability to be any true help at all. Anna lifts us out of the wreckage and shows us all how we could really be.

The one thing I wondered, toward the end of the dream state of Agnes’s second life – at one point there’s a shot where we only see Anna, hovering over Agnes, and Agnes’s hand is reaching up. It just didn’t look like a female hand to me. I’ll have to go back and watch the scene one more time, but I could’ve sworn on my last trip through that it was a man’s hand. Was Bergman the kind of director that would’ve had his hand do a cameo?

-s.

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Oh, My, Word.  Pick me up off the floor and send me to the psychiatrist, Diane, because I will readily admit that I have a new love.  Only this is the kind of love that perhaps you recoil from in horror.

Maybe I'm also ready for the psych ward, Stef, because reading this post almost makes me feel like tears are about to well up. I don't think I've ever witnessed anything so emotionally devastating, so deeply mysterious, and so artistically beautiful as this film. It just takes my breath away. After three viewings, I can safely declare that I love this film. (Don't want to go back and read my previous posts yet, but I know I had trouble with it before.)

spoilers1.gif

A mother calls to her daughter.  The daughter shuffles forward, fearing a scolding she imagines will greet her.  The mother, seeing the young girl
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  • 1 month later...

Today is my birthday! grin.gif

Lying in my wonderful (but not often enough slept in) bed, I reached under my pillow early this morning to find The Criterion Collection's 1972 Ingmar Bergman classic Cries and Whispers on DVD.

I have a wonderful l/w-ife.

-s.

Edited by stef

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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...I reached under my pillow early this morning to find The Criterion Collection's 1972 Ingmar Bergman classic Cries and Whispers on DVD.

I must say, the tooth fairy has a considerably higher budget these days.

Ack. Apologies for the dumb joke. Seriously, what an awesome birthday gift.

Edited by Diane
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  • 1 month later...

This was my first viewing and I am still mulling it over. It was a lot to take in; visually, narratively and structurally. I have had limited interaction with Bergman and Cries and Whispers has a very different feel than the others I have seen.

My initial response was a grievous sense of loss for these characters. One thing I find extremely interesting is the topic of motherhood and how it affects the lives of children, in this case, little girls. The absence (lack of involvement) and obvious favoritism displayed by their mother created the distance in the sister

Edited by asher

...the kind of film criticism we do. We are talking about life, and more than that the possibility of abundant life." -M.Leary

"Dad, how does she move in mysterious ways?"" -- Jude (my 5-year-old, after listening to Mysterious Ways)

[once upon a time known here as asher]

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