The Ingmar Bergman movie of the day is, Cries and Whispers.
Cries and Whispers is written and directed by Ingmar Bergman, it’s from 1972 and it stars Harriet Andersson, Kari Sylwan, Ingrid Thulin and Liv Ullmann.
The film is set at a mansion at the end of the 19th century and is about two sisters who watch over their third sister on her deathbed, torn between fearing she might die and hoping that she will.
After several unsuccessful experimental films, “Cries and Whispers” was a critical and commercial success for Bergman, gaining nominations for five Academy Awards.
These included a nomination for Best Picture, which was unusual for a foreign-language film.
“Cries and Whispers” returned to the traditional Bergman themes of the female psyche or the quest for faith and redemption.
Unlike his previous films, “Cries and Whispers” uses saturated colour, especially crimson. It was for the color and light scheme that the cinematographer and long-time Bergman collaborator Sven Nykvist was awarded with the Academy Award for Best Cinematography.
“Cries and Whispers” takes place in a lavish mansion in the 1800s, filled with red carpets and white statuary.
It depicts the final days of Agnes (Harriet Andersson), who is near death due to cancer. Her sisters Maria (Liv Ullmann) and Karin (Ingrid Thulin) have returned to the family home to be with her, however the two women remain distant and awkward, struggling to comfort their sister while dealing with the shock and the fear of mortality Agnes’ death may bring to they themselves.
The deeply religious maid Anna (Kari Sylwan), whose own daughter died at an early age, is the only person in the house able to comfort the dying woman.
At length Agnes dies and during her wake the priest (Anders Ek) declares Agnes’ faith was stronger than his own.
In a dream-like sequence that follows Agnes seemingly returns to life for a short moment and asks her sisters one last time for the love and care denied her during her lifetime.
For a moment Karin, Maria and Agnes grow closer to each other, but this is short-lived when the two sisters realize that Agnes is actually dead, with Karin declaring such acts “morbid” and “disgusting.”
Once again only Anna is able to embrace and comfort Agnes.
The film is characterized by flashbacks that visit the characters’ lives and their memories, tracing each woman’s personality to the childhood they spent together.
Maria remembers her affair with a handsome doctor juxtaposed with her failed marriage to her ineffectual husband; Agnes remembers her unrequited devotion to their distant mother; and Karin struggles with self-harm, self-mutilating her sexual organs to drive her husband away.
The last flashback, from the deceased Agnes’ point of view, is narrated via her diary and shows her sisters descending upon the house clad in white, like angels.
The last words are Agnes whispering, “Come what may, this is happiness. I cannot wish for anything better. Now, for a few minutes, I can experience perfection. And I feel profoundly grateful to my life, which gives me so much…”
These are some stills from “Cries and Whispers”.
Some interesting trivia about this extraordinary film, “Cries and Whispers”:
Ingmar Bergman explained the use of the color red in this film: “‘Cries and Whispers’ is an exploration of the soul, and ever since childhood, I have imagined the soul to be a damp membrane in varying shades of red.”
The mansion where the film was shot, Taxinge-Nasby, had not been inhabited for years, and the repainting of the walls with glossy red paint, and the half run-down condition of the place, meant that it had to be extensively renovated by the new caretakers.
Bergman’s films were difficult to market commercially and thus foreign capital was not available to finance the film. Bergman then decided to shoot the film in Swedish and not in English like his previous film “The Touch” (1971 film), and to finance “Cries and Whispers” through his own production company, Cinematograph.
Although he used personal savings of 750,000 SEK and loans of 200,000 SEK, he also had to ask the Swedish Film Institute for support with the 1.5 million SEK budget. To save costs, the main actresses and Nykvist gave their salary as a loan and were nominally co-producers.
“Cries and Whispers” was extremely well received by critics.
The New York Times’ Vincent Canby called it a “magnificent, moving, and very mysterious new film”.
Writing about the film in his series on “Great Movies”, film critic Roger Ebert says, “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.”
US rights were bought by Roger Corman at New World Pictures who paid Bergman $75,000 for it and made $1 million in profit. Corman claimed it was Bergman’s biggest success in America.
“Cries and Whispers” was shown out of competition at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival, where Bergman received an overwhelming emotional response by the audience and where it won the Vulcain Prize of the Technical Artist.
At the 46th Academy Awards it was nominated for five awards, for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design for the costume designer Marik Vos and unusually for a foreign-language film for Best Picture.
In the end Sven Nykvist won the cinematography award for his work as director of photography.
To qualify for the Academy Awards, the film was rushed to a premiere in Los Angeles County before the official premiere in Sweden a few months later.
“Cries and Whispers” was nominated and won several other awards on festivals and from critics’ associations.
At the 27th British Academy Film Awards Sven Nykvist was nominated for Best Cinematography and Ingrid Thulin for Best Supporting Actress, at the 30th Golden Globe Awards the film was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film and at the David di Donatello ceremony Ingmar Bergman won in the category Best Foreign Director and Andersson, Sylwan, Thulin and Ullmann won the Special David award.
In Scandinavia the film won the Guldbagge Awards for Best Film, Harriet Andersson for Best Actress and Sven Nykvist the Special Jury Price, the Jussi Award for Best Foreign Director and the Bodil Awards for Best European Film.
The film also won several awards from critics’ associations, including the New York Film Critics Circle Awards, National Board of Review awards and National Society of Film Critics awards.
In other words, “Cries and Whispers” is one of Bergman’s most powerful works.
The music or soundtrack of “Cries and Whispers” is:
“Suite No. 5 for solo Cello in C Minor, 4th mvt ‘Sarabande'” by Johann Sebastian Bach.
“Mazurka in A minor, Op.17/4” by Frédéric Chopin.
Celebrating Ingmar Bergman’s films!