Monday 25 July 2016

1,001 Films: "Cries and Whispers/Viskningar och rop" (1972)

Question: what's black and white and red all over? Answers: a newspaper, a nun in a blender, and Bergman's Cries and Whispers, which uses these colours exclusively to paint a picture of a household steeped in unhappiness. It's the story of three sisters and their maid: in some ways, Agnes (Harriet Andersson), the sibling dying of cancer (could be stomach, could be ovarian), seems the best off - no matter how much pain she's in now, at least she knows relief, in the form of death, is imminent. There's no such reassurance for the other two: Maria (Liv Ullman) watched her own husband commit suicide in front of her, while the deeply repressed Karin (Ingrid Thulin), who won't let anybody touch her, has started to see and hear things that just aren't there. Or are they?

The cries and whispers of the title go as much unheard - reduced to white noise inside the characters' heads - as unheeded within these still, quiet chambers, decked out in the coldest reds ever put on screen: the reds of lifeless, long-spilled blood. (In a film of such bodily concerns, the visuals suggest exactly what it might be to poke around inside a diseased and collapsing organ.) Bergman here takes what he was theorising about in Persona and The Silence - the distance between people - and applies it practically to a dramatic situation, with characters who've become isolated from the rest of the world (because of their wealth? Their sex? Their sisterhood?) and effectively left to rot. You can imagine it working as well on stage as on film - a few flashbacks notwithstanding - but in whichever form you encounter it, it's a remarkably intense work, building something compulsive out of the simplest of elements.

Cries and Whispers is available on DVD through Tartan.  

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