This existential wail of a drama from Ingmar Bergman concerns two sisters, Karin (Ingrid Thulin) and Maria (Liv Ullmann), keeping vigil for a third, Agnes (Harriet Andersson), who is dying of cancer and can find solace only in the arms of a beatific nurse (Kari Sylwan). An intensely felt film that may be Bergman’s most striking formal experiment, 'Cries and Whispers' (which won an Oscar for the extraordinary color photography of Sven Nykvist) is a powerful depiction of human behavior in the face of death, positioned on the borders between reality and nightmare, tranquillity and terror.
We all know that Ingmar Bergman is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. With films like 'The Seventh Seal', 'Fanny and Alexander', and 'Wild Strawberries', you would instantly know the type of man Bergman was and what he loved to show on film. You wouldn't say that he was known for romantic comedies or horror, but instead, he had a unique talent for showing the ups and downs of life and relationships in the most profound ways. One of Bergman's most raw and grim films was 'Cries and Whispers' from 1972.
There have only been a few films or tv shows where I became so entangled in the characters that I felt like I was actually a part of their lives. This is one of those films for me, and I don't think I'm the only one who feels that way, as 'Cries and Whispers' has won numerous awards including Oscars. Not only did this film receive critical praise, it also became one of the more financially successful Bergman films of his career, and for good reason. I think we can all relate tot his film in some form or fashion, because we all know someone who has suffered from cancer.
What Bergman does so well here is that he makes us think about what we would do and say in the terrible situation of seeing a loved one in severe pain, where there is nothing you can do, but watch. 'Cries and Whispers' takes place all inside a luxurious estate in rural Sweden where two sisters Maria (Liv Ullmann) and Karin (Ingrid Thulin) have come home to be with their sister Agnes (Harriet Anderson) who is on her deathbed from cancer. Anna (Kari Sylman), the maid/nurse helps out when she can. Not only does Agnes not have long to live, but she is in severe pain throughout the entire film, moaning and screaming in agony as these woman can only look on helplessly.
A good doctor (Erland Josephson) visits a couple of times, but can only watch in tears like the rest of the women, as there is nothing he can do. Throughout the film, each woman has flashbacks to their past, which shows us the key moments in their lives that made them who they are today, whether it be a good or bad person. Each sister confronts their past and present, which may not always be in the most gracious of ways, but each of them learn and struggle to re-access their lives for better or worse. All of this takes place as these women watch their beloved sister screaming in pain, which quite frankly, is pretty awful to hear.
It begs us to determine what we would do in this situation, and how would it influence and impact our lives. When the film is over, you can't help but feel like you have gone through a the death of a loved one as well. Each actress is excellent here, but Harriet Anderson playing Agnes just takes the spotlight. Her screams and moans hit ranges and effects similar to the possessed Regan of 'The Exorcist', and her facial expressions really do sell that we are actually seeing a dying woman in front of us.
Sven Kykvist won the Oscar for Best Cinematography in 1974 for this film. His use of the color red keeps us uneasy throughout, but ends up looking gorgeous and giving us a sense of escape from this household. 'Cries and Whispers' is a very heavy handed film, but it is also quite brilliant.
'Cries and Whispers' comes with an excellent 1080p HD transfer presented in 1.66:1 aspect ratio. According to the Criterion booklet, this new transfer was created in 2K resolution from the original 35 mm camera negative. Thousands of instances of debris, dirt, splices, scratches, and warps were manually removed. Criterion have outdone themselves here with this new video presentation and is a big upgrade from its previous DVD release. Each scene now has great detail and depth now, providing excellent textures and facial features in each closeup and wider shot.
You'll be able to make out the intricate textures in the period costumes throughout as well as the heavy makeup blemishes of the 19th century. The most noticeable and best upgrade is in the color reproduction. This film is soaked in red. In fact, you could say that instead if a B&W film, we have a R&W movie. With this new transfer, every color is perfectly balanced and saturated, which gives each shade of red it's own distinct color. One might say this is fifty shades of red, but I digress. The black levels are deep and inky throughout and the skin tones are natural for the time period. There were no examples of any compression issues to speak of, leaving this video presentation with flawless marks.
This release comes with a Swedish LPCM 1.0 audio mix with an option to choose an English Dolby Digital 1.0 mix as well. There are excellent subtitles that go along with the Swedish version. According to the Criterion booklet, this original track was remastered at a 24-bit from the 17.5mm magnetic track where all pops, cracks, shrills, and hiss were manually removed.
This is a dialogue heavy film with very little to no musical score, so don't expect the dynamic range to be extremely wide here or a big action blockbuster type sound. That being said, each sound, voice, and sound effect has been upgraded for the highest quality of sound. Everything has been balanced and layered to give a much improved sound that the previous release. Dialogue is always crystal clear and easy to follow on each track. For being the type of simple audio track it is, "perfect" is a word I'd use.
Introduction by Ingmar Bergman from 2001 (HD, 8 Mins.) - Here is an intro to the film by Ingmar Bergman himself from over a decade ago, as he an reporter Marie Nyrerod discuss the movie.
Interview with Harriet Anderson (HD, 20 Mins.) - Film historian Peter Cowie talks with actress Harriet Anderson about her role in 'Cries and Whispers' and was made a couple years ago.
On Solace (HD, 13 Mins.) - Here is a video essay by the filmmaker ::kogonada (yes that's his name), as he discusses almost everything about the film.
Behind the Scenes Footage with Peter Cowie (HD, 34 Mins.) - Here is a ton of archival on set footage from the making of 'Cries and Whispers', which has an optional commentary track by Cowie.
Ingmar Bergman: Reflections on Life, Death, and Love with Erland Josephson (HD, 53 Mins.) - Back in 1999, journalist Malou von Sivers interviewed Ingmar Bergman and actor Erland Josephson together as they discussed their collaborations together. They also talk about Bergman's films, his filmmaking style, and the ups and downs of their relationship and the film industry.
Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2 Mins.) - Trailer for the film.
Criterion Booklet - A 12-page booklet that outlines the cast and crew, talks about the transfer, and includes an essay by film scholar Emma Wilson on the film and Bergman.
Ingmar Bergman's 'Cries and Whispers' is a fantastic film, but it is also a very tough film to get through. The emotional journey this film takes us through can seem like a feat at times, due to the intense suffering of Agnes, but it is also very beautiful to see three sisters come together in their own way when times are rough. Criterion has knocked this release out of the park again with perfect video and audio presentations. The video is outstanding. The extras are all worth watching and listening to, making this release highly recommended.