Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Cries and Whispers

I mentioned yesterday that one of the movies I watched over the weekend, Will Penny, seems to be out of print on DVD. Another movie that I watched which is in print on DVD is Cries and Whispers. It's a pricey DVD, though, since it's courtesy of the Criterion collection.

Harriet Andersson plays Agnes, one of three sisters in circa-1900 Sweden. At the star of the movie, she's in bed, and apparently in some pain. That's because she is in fact dying of cancer, which of course was an early death sentence back in those days, as with James Stewart's character in The Shootist. For some time, Agnes has been looked after at the old family estate by the maid Anna (Kari Sylwan), but not that her death is getting closer, her two systers Karin (Ingrid Thulin) and Maria (Liv Ullmann) are there as well. What a nice family thing to do.

Yeah, right. This is one dysfunctional family. The sisters all apparently hate each other, but none of them mention any of it to each other. Each of the three sisters gets to have a flashback about something in her past that made her the way she is today. For Agnes, she apparently had some sort of distant relationship with her mother (also played by Liv Ullmann), which I suppose should be a bit creepy, but I didn't notice when I was watching that Ullmann was doing both parts.

Maria seems the most normal, but when she was younger she had a thing for the family doctor, and even though she's since gotten married she still has a thing for the doctor, even though he doesn't find the feeling mutual. In fact, the good doctor shows Maria how she's changed over the years. Maria also some hang-ups about wanting to help people, whether it be her sister Agnes, or her husband.

And then there's Karin. She doesn't like to be touched. She's emotionally cold, even though she too is married. And then one night when she was having dinner with her husband, she accidentally broke a wine glass, and kept one of the shards as a souvenir of how everything is a web of lies, at least in her mind. You don't want to know what happens to that piece of glass.

Agnes finally dies, but no, that's not the end of the movie. Not by a mile. There's a bizarre dream-like sequence involving Anna and Agnes, and Anna wanting everybody to see Agnes again even though Agnes is quite dead.

When people talk about foreign films as being pretentious, I'd think Cries and Whispers is a good place to start. The movie is tedious, the characters extremely unlikeable. And then there's the cinematography. The interiors, I think, deservedly won an Oscar, aided by Sven Nykvist's excellent use of lighting. However, Ingmar Bergman had the idea that everything should be red. Boy does that color dominate. The only good thing about the overwhelming use of red is that at least the movie's color palette isn't teal and orange like most modern movies.

If you want to see all of Ingmar Bergman's work, go ahead an knock yourself out by watching Cries and Whispers. If you want to see Bergman discussing family dysfunction, I think you'd be better starting out with Autumn Sonata.

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