The arthouse of the 1970s was transfixed by the marriage of sex and death and its crowning figure hailed from Sweden. More than 40 years later, “Cries and Whispers,” on Criterion Blu-ray this week, feels like Ingmar Bergman’s gloomiest, and most glorious, creation. Three sisters (Liv Ullman, Ingrid Thulin, Harriet Andersson) mope about a manor house as one (Andersson) lies on her deathbed, coming and going through dark corridors as they brood over the awful inevitability of dying, and the gossamer nature of faith.
In 1972, B-movie king Roger Corman paid $75,000 for the film’s US rights, taking it all the way to the Oscars with five nominations including Best Picture. This arch chamber drama, perhaps Bergman’s angriest film, won for longterm Bergman collaborator Sven Nykvist’s crimson-colored imagery. “Cries and Whispers” did impressively at the box office. It offered the crucial ingredient of foreign film appeal: a shocking scene of aberrant sexual violence that just had to be seen, then unseen.
Here’s Roger Ebert:
“Bergman never made another film this painful. To see it is to touch the extremes of human feeling. It is so personal, so penetrating of privacy, we almost want to look away. ‘Persona’ (1966) points to it, especially with its use of closeups to show the mystery of the personality; no other director has done more with the human face. It’s as if “Cries and Whispers,” made in 1972, brought him to the end of his attempts to lance the wound of his suffering; his later films draw back into more realism, more sensible memories of his life and failings (for no director is more consistently autobiographical).”
“Nothing that Bergman has done before is likely to prepare you for ‘Cries and Whispers’ except in a comparatively superficial sense. Like all of his recent works, it’s ever-aware of what I hesitate to call its filmicness. Sequences begin and end with close-up portraits of the character being considered. The color program of the film is designed to call attention to itself—the red interiors, a fondness for white costumes that is so insistent that the appearance of a gray dress seems to be a terrible omen, the periodic dissolves to the blank red screen.”
“Cries and Whispers” is also streaming on Hulu. Also, check out Liv Ullman’s latest film as a director, “Miss Julie,” a chilling adaptation of the Strindberg play starring Jessica Chastain.