Friday, July 27, 2007

Cries and Whispers (Bergman, 1972)

Been on a bit of a Bergman kick lately and although Cries and Whispers doesn't quite reach the brilliance of Fanny och Alexander (doubtful many other films ever will), it is still quite an accomplishment by the Sweedish master. It's a cold, sterile, emotionally devastating film with haunting imagery and some very strong performances by the lead female actresses. The story takes place entirely within a large mansion circling around a dying woman who is being watched over by her two pompous sisters and their affectionate maid. The entire film bleeds the color red with all its metaphorical implications concerning the human heart and death. The interior decorating of the house is entirely red from the ceilings, walls, floors and even most of the furniture. The claustrophobic setting of pulsating red color schemes effectively contrast with the clothing of the sisters who are dressed predominantly in white. Bergman hits his message home even further in the editing process by using red to transition from scenes with fade in and fade outs. The heavy dose of symbolism does get a tad repetitive though.

There aren't many smiles or happy people found in this film. The suffering of Agnes (Harriet Andersson) as she succumbs to death is deeply tragic and distrubing. She is mostly restrained to the bed, often shrieking in pain. The inevitable is soon approaching and Agnes has accepted her fate. On the other hand, her two sisters are visiciously cold-hearted unable to fully process their sister's death and selfishly lash out at each, digging up old wounds in order to settle unresolved family issues. Anna the maid is the only person that remotely possesses human compassion and her kind-hearted nature generates much warmth amidst all of the cynical misery of the household. Even though the the relationship between the three sisters recieves the most attention, Anna's role is significant in displaying Bergman's themes of death in a relgious context.
The use of flash-backs are slightly jarring and I could have sworn the actress that played one of the sisters was a stand in for the matriarch of the family which confused me to no end. Though beautifully shot, Cries and Whispers left me fairly indifferent save for the final few scenes which allows Agnes a bittersweet farewell as she reflects on a happy memory of spending the day with her two sisters and Anna in the park on a beautiful day in Summer. If only the rest of the film leading up to this epiphany were as rewarding.


No comments: