Cries and Whispers: A Twisted Throwback

Gabby Orman, Staff Writer

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Have you ever seen someone so intensely emotional that you just had to avert your gaze and periodically peek through your fingertips, awaiting the denouement for this conniption while also finding this “conniption” to be a refreshing and robust manifestation of the human psyche?

That’s Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers.

At the family estate, three sisters—Maria, Karin, and Agnes—are rejoined as the latter’s cancer has progressed to such an extent that her excruciating pain—both physical and psychological—have become unbearable for solely her and Anna (caretaker and maid of the estate) to contend with alone…though the other two sisters do little to alleviate this burden. Both mired in their own anguish, it would be an understatement to say that Maria and Karin are incompetent; Maria and Karin are repulsed by their sibling’s deteriorating state. They cease to become empathetic, only consciously existing within the respective spheres of their own “turmoil” as age-old resentment manifests itself at a less-than-adequate point in time.  Henceforth, Anna—who, ironically, possesses a superlative sum of sorrow—fills the void and feeds Agnes’ paucity of solace while everyone else fills the time feeding their own dolor. It’s a real tangle of emotional clutter.

Bergman’s movies are oftentimes hailed by film-scholars and cinephiles alike to be “solitary, poetic, fearful, creative, brave and philosophical”. While I concur, I reckon that it is also important to add that this film owes a grand portion of its cerebral punch to the iconic Sven Nykvist—Bergman’s go-to cinematographer is a god of extreme close-ups. In particular, the fade-to-red transitions from dives into a character’s past and lunges back into the present were absolutely breathtaking—and my favorite shots from the film (with the exception of one that semi-SPOILER ALERT: reveals a “corpse” crying!).

I find the process of gauging a film’s “worth” in numbers degrading and incapable of lauding an exceptional film to the full extent that it should be appreciated (or insulting enough for an atrocious film). Thus, I will not conclude with a demeaning “ten-out-of-ten” or “five stars”, but rather an abridged opinion: If one likes artful and impactful—albeit, somewhat cryptic—films, Cries and Whispers would be a superb choice.

Cries and Whispers Released in 1972, Available for viewing on Criterion Channel