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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
One of Ingmar Bergman's most personal statements, one of his best
Cries and Whispers is a film that will strike at least one chord with any viewer on its emotional placement, the almost unflinching (and absolutely masterful) camera technique by Sven Nykvist, and with the characterizations from the four female leads, in-particular the dying Harriet Andersson. This is also a film that will be very hard to stomach for most (it was at times for me), with it's sheer display of constant despair and grief, and the overall state of mind these characters hold. Ullman plays Agnes, marked with Tuberculosis, she lays on her death bed like a zombie writhing in pain for the eventual end, with her two sisters, Maria and Karin, and the servant Anna, at her bedside, though seeming at a distance (except for Anna). Bergman also views Maria and Karin's relationships with themselves and their husbands, both rather brutal (Karin has a scene with a shard of glass that had me gasp).
The examination of these roles, and the entire feel of the house, which is always shown as red as blood, make this in the realm of cinematic drama a shocker, and a masterwork to be certain. There's only one aspect of the film that I can criticize: many times in the film Bergman uses a red screen to fade in and fade out, and then again a few seconds later, and this seems to have not much purpose to the symbolic impact since the inside of the house conveys enough that these people are in a metaphorical house of hell already, and the fadings don't add any weight to it. Nevertheless this is one director's great films, a landmark in fact, though this doesn't mean it's quite as accessible as The Seventh Seal or even the epic Fanny and Alexander.
This is cinema for those who almost enjoy, paradoxically, their intestines ripped out and stomped on the floor only to find out it was just an unforgettable dream. Swedish movies rarely get this visceral. A+
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