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In turn-of-the-century Sweden, cancer-stricken, dying Agnes is visited in her isolated rural mansion by her sisters Karin and Maria. As Agnes' condition deteriorates and pain management becomes increasingly more difficult, fear and revulsion grip the sisters, who seem incapable of empathy, and Agnes' only comfort and solace comes from her maid Anna. As the end draws closer, long repressed feelings of grudging resentment and mistrust cause jealousy, selfishness, and bitterness between the siblings to surface. Written by
Gabe Taverney (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Bergman, who produced the film with his own money, could not find an American distributor as they felt it was too uncommercial. Roger Corman, who had just left American-International Pictures to set up his own New World releasing company, was in the market for a prestige picture to give his new operation some class. See more »
Come over here Maria. Look at yourself in the mirror. You are beautiful... but you have changed. These days you cast rapid, calculating, sidelong glances. You're gaze used to be direct, open, and without any disguise. Your mouth is an expression of discontent and hunger. It used only to be soft. Your complexion has become pallid, you use make-up. Your fine, broad forehead now has four creases above each eyebrow... And this fine contour from the ear to the chin... it's no longer quite so evident...
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Upon its release CRIES AND WHISPERS was hailed as one of Bergman's finest films. Although it has not quite held onto that original evaluation, it remains a very fine film--a subtle and delicately performed drama as remarkable for its silence as for its occasional moments of dialogue. And in many respects it offers an extremely good introduction to Bergman's work.
Like many of Bergman's films, CRIES AND WHISPERS shows the director's preoccupations with memory, communication, time, community, and death. The story is bleak: Agnes is dying and her sisters Karin and Maria have come to attend her during this final illness--but they prove unable to communicate in a meaningful way with either Agnes or each other, and Agnes' emotional care is left largely to her long-time maid, the devoted Anna.
As the film unwinds, we are bought into the memories of each woman in turn. The dying Agnes (played with powerful realism by Harriet Andersson) not only grapples with increasing pain, she recalls with regret the emotional separation that existed between her long-dead mother and herself. Sister Maria (Liv Ullman), a mindless sensualist, recalls an act of adultery that has poisoned her marriage; Sister Karin (Ingrid Thulin), who is emotionally cold, recalls an act of self-mutilation designed to thwart her husband's desires. Only the maid Anna (Kari Sylwan), with a peasant's directness, actually works to be of comfort, even going so far as to cradle Agnes' head on her naked breast and dreaming of comforting Agnes while her sisters fail.
The film is ever so delicately tinged with subtle elements of lesbianism, sadomasochism, and incest, and the emotional problems experienced by Maria and Karin are at least partly sexual in nature--but these are not the focus of the film so much as they are surface indications of a deeper internal turmoil. As to what that deeper turmoil is... Bergman might say it is the nature of life itself. We each stand alone, usually in denial of our own mortality, usually unable to reach each other in any meaningful way. A deep film, and in spite of its occasional awkwardness a memorable and touching film. Recommended.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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