Plot: What’s it about?
Agnes (Harriet Andersson) is in the final days of her life, as she is dying in a most painful, prolonged fashion. But as she lives the remaining hours, she is joined by her sisters, Karin (Ingrid Thulin) and Maria (Liv Ullman), which seems to be a potential comfort of sorts. But that isn’t always the case here and as Agnes is being destroyed by cancer, her sisters seem to become quite bitter, as opposed to comforting, or at least sympathetic. As time passes, the two visiting sisters show their bad sides more than a little, via all sorts of petty issues that send them into fits of all manner of negative emotions, not the most peaceful situation for Agnes, to be sure. As her sisters have their emotional escapades and her nurse Anna (Kari Sylwan) remains by her side also, Agnes begins to find a new place with the peace she desires, her own past. Through memories of the times when she was truly alive, Agnes can look away from the unrest she is involved in now, since the past has some wonderful moments to rest upon.
I am very pleased to own this film on this format, as it is a beautiful, haunting picture that deserves a wonderful treatment. I am always taken in by the film’s lush visuals, in terms of composition, movement, and overall impact, a tremendous effort indeed. Sven Nykist’s gorgeous cinematography won an Oscar and for good reason, as he paints a most stunning portrait with the cameras, to be sure. But the approach to the visuals is a tempered one, as it provides a terrific image at all times, but never becomes too pretentious, which can often happen in films of this ilk, though thankfully not in this case. As memorable as the visuals are however, they are by no means the focal point of this film, instead the real center lies within the characters and by turn, the actors who bring them to life so well. The cast seems so natural here, which is vital to the material and of course, Ingmar Bergman’s able handed direction keeps the performances sewn together with the other elements. The slow pace and lack of action might scare some off, but anyone in search of great cinema should give this film a look, especially via this wonderful release.
As he does with most of his films, director Ingmar Bergman infuses Cries and Whispers with deep, intense concepts, which the characters then try to cope with, in various ways. I know we don’t see many modern films that tackle this kind of subject matter, so I think some casual movie fans will have trouble with this, as well as other Bergman pictures. Even so, anyone interested in real cinema and the history of cinema should visit his resume, as his films have inspired many others, as well as standing as some of the finest films ever created. I am not a massive fan of Bergman’s complete body of work per se, but I think he has made some excellent efforts and while slow paced & introspective, I think even the shortest attention span viewer should give his work a chance, or two. Other films directed by Bergman include Autumn Sonata, Through A Glass Darkly, The Magic Flute, Persona, Wild Strawberries, and The Seventh Seal. The cast here includes Liv Ullman (Lost Horizon, A Bridge Too Far), Ingrid Thulin (Winter Light, Mother’s Heart), Kari Sylwan (Face to Face), and Harriet Andersson (Gossip, Crime in Paradise).
Video: How does it look?
Cries and Whispers is presented in a 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. As usual, Criterion has delivered a fine visual effort here, though some small flaws do force me to lower the score a shade. I saw a little too much grain in some scenes, although most were very clean and as such, I can’t complain too much. The image is much cleaner and sharper than I expected, with lush colors and accurate contrast, very impressive work indeed. I wouldn’t say this is a reference level transfer, given the film’s age and such, I think this is a terrific treatment.
Audio: How does it sound?
The included mono option is very solid and handles the material very well, to be sure. This is very much dialogue driven material and as such, the mono format is never too limited and that is good news indeed. The original Swedish language is offered of course, so if you need to have the dialogue translated, simply enable the included optional English subtitles. I found all the elements here to be in fine form and while the material and format simply don’t allow for much, I was impressed with the overall presentation here and I don’t think anyone will be let down. This disc also includes an English language edition, in case that’s more your style.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This disc has only one bonus feature, but it is a great one and as such, I see no need for complaints. I’d rather have one insightful extra than a whole disc of promotional materials, so the included interview session was a welcome addition, to be sure. The interview is with Ingmar Bergman and Erland Josephson, who discuss all sorts of topics and with almost an hour of time, they’re able to go in depth, instead of simply touching on the topics. I was very taken with this session and I think Bergman fans will be thrilled, kudos Criterion for including such an extensive feature on a lower priced release like Cries and Whispers.