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154 - Cries and Whispers 
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Post 154 - Cries and Whispers
One of the favorite things about my journey has been getting to know the films of Ingmar Bergman. Whilst I had seen 3 or 4 before it has always been more out of duty than pleasure. If asked, I would definitely not have counted him as a director I liked.

Revisiting the Seventh Seal was a revelation and I subsequently purchased the Blu Ray at one of Criterions sales. Then came “Wild Strawberries” which I loved, “Virgin Spring”, and next up was the awe inspiring “Persona”. I would argue that “Wild Strawberries” had been my favorite but “Persona” was the best.

Bergman has 13 films in the top 1000 and I now have a new favorite.

I am convinced that Ingmar Bergman is the best director of women. He certainly seems to get amazing performances from his cast. Cries and Whispers predominantly features women and the performances are all breath taking.

Image

He also had a partner in Sven Nykvist who must be right up there as one of the great cinematographers of all time. This film excels in three areas. There is a brilliant use of light to create fascinating portraits. They have no issue with half the face in shadow held in close up for significant moments of time, which is unusual in modern films outside the horror genre. Secondly, the positioning of the camera is exquisite and adds personality to the characters. Moments of power, sadness and weakness are all filmed differently. Finally and maybe most importantly, the use of color. The film is shot using a slightly cold palette with blues and greens coming out. However this is contrasted with sequences involving either strong reds or black. The film itself uses color every cleverly, with the characters moving from white to black, The lighting of black costumes is a challenge and this is as perfect as I’ve seen. Tim Burton has studied this movie.

After seeing a total of eight Bergman films I also love the minimalism and austerity he brings to the table. He strips sequences down to their bones and shoots them with no clutter, no inter cutting, no tricks. He lets the characters and the story speak for themselves. This takes huge confidence because there is no hiding. His use of sound in this film wonderfully amplifies my point. The opening sequence moves to the tick of an unusual clock or even a small bell. Great chunks of the film have almost no sound, dialog is sparse and the sound design becomes a character in the film itself, reinforcing the overall tone.

What’s it all about? Sisters and death. It’s Bergman! Seriously, I don’t want to indulge in rehashing the plot or give too much away and spoil anything. I’d also add that there are undertones of lesbianism, vampires and strange eroticism.

“Cries and Whispers” is a masterpiece and shows a director at the top of his game. Unfortunately it’s not a casual watch and is probably not the easiest entrée into the work of Bergman. Those who are ready are going to find a movie that they may never forget.

10/10
Rob


Wed May 18, 2011 9:42 am
Post Re: 154 - Cries and Whispers
I owe this another viewing.


Wed May 18, 2011 12:32 pm
Post Re: 154 - Cries and Whispers
Pedro wrote:
I owe this another viewing.



Pedro, I'm curious to know what you thought the last time round.

In fact, I'm curious to know what anyone thought :-)
Rob


Wed May 18, 2011 1:20 pm
Post Re: 154 - Cries and Whispers
Has anyone see Cries and Whispers?

If you're into very good movies this is critical viewing

Rob


Sat Jun 04, 2011 1:44 am
Post Re: 154 - Cries and Whispers
Pedro wrote:
I owe this another viewing.


I'm quoting Pedro just because his viewpoint, I'd guess, coincides with mine more than yours does, Rob (though let me say now: excellent post. Definitely made me think for a couple minutes, and I love reading people talk about cinematography). While I do owe this film another viewing, I'm not sure I'd like it to be soon. Here's the thing: out of the 10 films of Bergman's I've seen, Cries and Whispers is easily one of my least favorites (if it weren't for Hour of the Wolf and Winter Light, I'd be quick to give it the lowest spot, actually). Let me tell you why:

If there's any one thing a great director can do, it is, in my opinion, keep a strong, consistent mood. Bergman isn't just good at that, he's amazing at it, and Cries and Whispers is no exception. However, the problem with having a style, and tone, as distinct and consistent as Bergman's is that unintentional self-parody becomes very possible through abuse of that style. Cries and Whispers is not an unintentional self-parody; Despite what I might think of it, I respect its position at the front of the man's canon. However, it does suffer from something related: it's too much.

Bergman followed several themes almost religiously (Ba-dum-ching?) throughout his career, and death is clearly one of the biggest. However, while Cries and Whispers might be Bergman's most through examination of the issue, I'm left wondering if that's a good thing. In his other great films he would often mix his themes, tackling God, faith, man, grief the universe, etcetera, often all within minutes of one other. While I won't say Cries and Whispers doesn't do that, it does them all from the perspective of death; everything in this film comes from, reflects back on, and ultimately is about death.

Let's put that another way: I, in my films at least, don't really value staying on task. It's telling of me, I think, that I absolutely adore Fellini's stuff... after La Dolce Vita. His earlier stuff? It's good. Great, even. But it doesn't really rattle my soul the way 8 1/2, Juliet of the Spirits, or Satyricon can. For me, themes, characters, tones, everything we take to be important in the movies, can be thought of like stars; stare at them and they grow dull, but out of the corner of your eye they shine brighter than the moon.

That's how I think of Cries and Whispers. If many of Bergman's films resemble a night sky, stars shining bright as far as the eye can see, then Cries and Whispers is like a murky night sky with only a few visible stars. Yes, one could say that just seeing those few stars makes you value them more, but it also destroys part of their appeal. Also like a pitch black night, Cries and Whispers is disheartening, perhaps even oppressive. Not necessarily in a good way, either. Excessive misery is not always a good thing; it can be used like a cheat to wring unnecessary pathos (I'm thinking of you, Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu), or it can simply be dulling, breaking the audiences engagement with the film before its finished trying to say what it wants to say. Cries and Whispers falls squarely in that latter camp for me. I mean, be honest: Have any of you seen a film half as solemn as this one? Yes, say what you will about Babel (and don't get me wrong, it's not half, or even a fourth, the film this one is), but at least that film had some crackle to it. But is there any point in this film where Bergman crackles, or even tries to pull back a little, let some air in? The film, to me, often felt as if it were as dead as its protagonist is about to be. Chamber dramas have their place, yes, but even they must be leavened, or kept alive through tension. Cries and Whispers has no tension, and it does not leaven itself. This is a film that feels like it was made by one of Bergman's most depressed protagonists, not the man himself.

Obviously, the film has its strengths. As you said Rob, aesthetically it's more than perfect, and the acting, like the drama, is both subtle and heartbreaking. But there just comes a point where I don't care anymore, and Cries and Whispers hit that point much earlier than it should have. You can say it's my disposition, or that I was in a bad mood when I saw it (I honestly don't remember), but I have my doubts. With Cries and Whispers Bergman set out to make the ultimate film about death. I think he overshot his mark.

(Just a quick note for the interested: this is also the exact same problem I had with Winter Light, except I'd quickly say that's a much lesser film than this one. Winter Light hit me hard immediately after I saw it, but my esteem for it fell quickly. There's just something a little too on-the-nose for me about sending a priest through a crisis of faith, especially in a film that bleak)


Tue Jun 07, 2011 5:21 am
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Post Re: 154 - Cries and Whispers
I think Cries and Whispers is terrific. A **** film all the way, and one of Bergman's best works.

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Tue Jun 07, 2011 6:08 am
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Post Re: 154 - Cries and Whispers
JamesKunz wrote:
I think Cries and Whispers is terrific. A **** film all the way, and one of Bergman's best works.


Care to go into more detail?


Tue Jun 07, 2011 1:11 pm
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Post Re: 154 - Cries and Whispers
Zeppelin wrote:
JamesKunz wrote:
I think Cries and Whispers is terrific. A **** film all the way, and one of Bergman's best works.


Care to go into more detail?


Absolutely. I love the color palate (even if I think the claim that Berman uses the color red because he thinks of "the inside of the human soul as a membranous red" is really rather pretentious) and the filmmaking, from a technical standpoint is unimpeachable. And then as a movie it works terrifically in developing its characters and contrasting relationships, some based on their warmth but most being frigid and icy. At the end of the movie I didn't like most of the characters, but I found them all startlingly real.

You talk about excessive misery, which I often agree with you about. The word I use is "wallow." I don't like movies which wallow in human suffering. But through the flashbacks and the goodness of some of the characters, this becomes more than just a wallow in suffering. Much like in fellow Swede Moodyson's Lilya-4-ever, the goodness of a few of the characters (Agnes and Anna) make everything bearable.

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Tue Jun 07, 2011 4:33 pm
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Post Re: 154 - Cries and Whispers
JamesKunz wrote:
Absolutely. I love the color palate (even if I think the claim that Berman uses the color red because he thinks of "the inside of the human soul as a membranous red" is really rather pretentious) and the filmmaking, from a technical standpoint is unimpeachable. And then as a movie it works terrifically in developing its characters and contrasting relationships, some based on their warmth but most being frigid and icy. At the end of the movie I didn't like most of the characters, but I found them all startlingly real.

You talk about excessive misery, which I often agree with you about. The word I use is "wallow." I don't like movies which wallow in human suffering. But through the flashbacks and the goodness of some of the characters, this becomes more than just a wallow in suffering. Much like in fellow Swede Moodyson's Lilya-4-ever, the goodness of a few of the characters (Agnes and Anna) make everything bearable.


I agree with the first paragraph almost completely. That's part of the reason my first post spent so little time on the film itself; it's an incredibly difficult film to critique from an aesthetic point of view. Say what you will about Bergman, but he knew what he was doing. (I agree with you on that explanation though. I always thought the use of red was primarily because of how aggressive it is as a color, and I find it difficult to believe that didn't at least partly figure into Bergman's use of it. Maybe I'm wrong, but it works the same either way)

I have to disagree with the second paragraph, though. I like the word wallow a great deal (good use of it, by the way!), but I'm not sure it exactly describes my problem with Cries and Whispers. See, the problem is I don't think the film wallows in human misery. Rather, I largely got the feeling, throughout the film, of a sort of scientific detachment, as if these people were all test subjects being experimented on by the specter of death, which I would consider the film's main character, in many senses. The closest comparison I can come to is Haneke's work, although what Bergman does here isn't nearly as cruel as anything Haneke has done. Still, there's that same feeling from both that the idea is more prescient than the characters. Normally that wouldn't be a problem, but when your idea is DEATH in big, capital letters... Well, maybe wallow was the right word after all.


Tue Jun 07, 2011 5:24 pm
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Post Re: 154 - Cries and Whispers
Zeppelin wrote:
JamesKunz wrote:
Absolutely. I love the color palate (even if I think the claim that Berman uses the color red because he thinks of "the inside of the human soul as a membranous red" is really rather pretentious) and the filmmaking, from a technical standpoint is unimpeachable. And then as a movie it works terrifically in developing its characters and contrasting relationships, some based on their warmth but most being frigid and icy. At the end of the movie I didn't like most of the characters, but I found them all startlingly real.

You talk about excessive misery, which I often agree with you about. The word I use is "wallow." I don't like movies which wallow in human suffering. But through the flashbacks and the goodness of some of the characters, this becomes more than just a wallow in suffering. Much like in fellow Swede Moodyson's Lilya-4-ever, the goodness of a few of the characters (Agnes and Anna) make everything bearable.


I agree with the first paragraph almost completely. That's part of the reason my first post spent so little time on the film itself; it's an incredibly difficult film to critique from an aesthetic point of view. Say what you will about Bergman, but he knew what he was doing. (I agree with you on that explanation though. I always thought the use of red was primarily because of how aggressive it is as a color, and I find it difficult to believe that didn't at least partly figure into Bergman's use of it. Maybe I'm wrong, but it works the same either way)

I have to disagree with the second paragraph, though. I like the word wallow a great deal (good use of it, by the way!), but I'm not sure it exactly describes my problem with Cries and Whispers. See, the problem is I don't think the film wallows in human misery. Rather, I largely got the feeling, throughout the film, of a sort of scientific detachment, as if these people were all test subjects being experimented on by the specter of death, which I would consider the film's main character, in many senses. The closest comparison I can come to is Haneke's work, although what Bergman does here isn't nearly as cruel as anything Haneke has done. Still, there's that same feeling from both that the idea is more prescient than the characters. Normally that wouldn't be a problem, but when your idea is DEATH in big, capital letters... Well, maybe wallow was the right word after all.


I think we're approaching Bergman's point of view differently. I don't think Bergman views his subjects with a clinical detachment at all. His grasp of (and full-on depictions of) human emotion are always fully on display. Like the moment in The Virgin Spring where the sweet young girl realizes that there's evil in the world, or the end of Scenes from a Marriage. But I don't know why I'm citing other films, as we're discussing a specific one. In any event, I think he's invested in these characters, you don't. That's cool. Incidentally, what's your favorite Bergman?

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Tue Jun 07, 2011 8:07 pm
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Post Re: 154 - Cries and Whispers
You're right about Bergman most of the time; Cries and Whispers is the only film of his that I consider clinical. I know I said my problems with Winter Light were similar above, but my problem with that was more its excessive morbidity that I'm not sure it earned.

Favorite Bergman? That's a tricky one. Probably a tie between Persona and Through a Glass Darkly. Persona is the "better" film, I think (I seem to recall you're not a fan?), in that it manages to mix a fairly experimental style with one of the most claustrophobic (and erotic, weirdly enough) psychological studies I can ever claim to see. The fact that Bergman managed to end the film by tieing the two threads together in a way that is abstract but makes sense in a horrific, pseudo-nightmare sort of way. I'm still not sure I can make sense of it all, but it's a tremendous achievement nonetheless.

Through a Glass Darkly isn't half as experimental, or experimental at all, but as far as Bergman in rampaging dramatist mode goes, I don't think any film he made can compete. The film has both a thematic urgency (I've always thought Bergman "felt" stronger than nearly any other director I can think of, that he was always really with his characters in their plights, and Through a Glass Darkly demonstrates that as well as any film he made) and is just a strong damn drama. The characterization is perfect, the interactions tense, the pacing incredible. I can find very little fault with it, and even if it doesn't forthrightly aim as high as some of Bergman's other films it manages, I think, through its drama to explore the same themes in a more subtle way. Again, a remarkable achievement.

I won't go any further than that, because I still have some catching up to do with the man. I haven't seen anything he made pre-Seventh Seal or Post-Cries and Whispers. I'm pretty well-versed in that middle period, though, most of which is awesome. And what about you, Mr. Kunz? May I ask what your favorite Bergman is?


Tue Jun 07, 2011 8:32 pm
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Post Re: 154 - Cries and Whispers
Zeppelin wrote:
You're right about Bergman most of the time; Cries and Whispers is the only film of his that I consider clinical. I know I said my problems with Winter Light were similar above, but my problem with that was more its excessive morbidity that I'm not sure it earned.

Favorite Bergman? That's a tricky one. Probably a tie between Persona and Through a Glass Darkly. Persona is the "better" film, I think (I seem to recall you're not a fan?), in that it manages to mix a fairly experimental style with one of the most claustrophobic (and erotic, weirdly enough) psychological studies I can ever claim to see. The fact that Bergman managed to end the film by tieing the two threads together in a way that is abstract but makes sense in a horrific, pseudo-nightmare sort of way. I'm still not sure I can make sense of it all, but it's a tremendous achievement nonetheless.

Through a Glass Darkly isn't half as experimental, or experimental at all, but as far as Bergman in rampaging dramatist mode goes, I don't think any film he made can compete. The film has both a thematic urgency (I've always thought Bergman "felt" stronger than nearly any other director I can think of, that he was always really with his characters in their plights, and Through a Glass Darkly demonstrates that as well as any film he made) and is just a strong damn drama. The characterization is perfect, the interactions tense, the pacing incredible. I can find very little fault with it, and even if it doesn't forthrightly aim as high as some of Bergman's other films it manages, I think, through its drama to explore the same themes in a more subtle way. Again, a remarkable achievement.

I won't go any further than that, because I still have some catching up to do with the man. I haven't seen anything he made pre-Seventh Seal or Post-Cries and Whispers. I'm pretty well-versed in that middle period, though, most of which is awesome. And what about you, Mr. Kunz? May I ask what your favorite Bergman is?


We normally occupy opposite ends of the film-watching spectrum--okay, not opposite ends, because I think Vexer has that staked out for himself, but fairly far opposed in terms of the importance of art vs. story--and that's the case here. I like Bergman more when he's less experimental and more focused on character and plot. So my favorites are Scenes from a Marriage and then Wild Strawberries. Persona is his only film that I've actively disliked (though I found it erotic too!) but The Seventh Seal left me fairly cold too.

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Tue Jun 07, 2011 8:45 pm
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Post Re: 154 - Cries and Whispers
JamesKunz wrote:
We normally occupy opposite ends of the film-watching spectrum--okay, not opposite ends, because I think Vexer has that staked out for himself, but fairly far opposed in terms of the importance of art vs. story--and that's the case here.


Very true (and this isn't the first time it's been brought up, either), but that's never stopped me from respecting your opinion, which you defend well, unlike... well, yeah.

JamesKunz wrote:
I like Bergman more when he's less experimental and more focused on character and plot. So my favorites are Scenes from a Marriage and then Wild Strawberries. Persona is his only film that I've actively disliked (though I found it erotic too!) but The Seventh Seal left me fairly cold too.


That's funny; The Seventh Seal is probably my third favorite behind the two I mentioned. A question: Have you seen Bergman's Faith Trilogy? They're all superb dramas, and I think you'd like them a great deal if you haven't already seen them. Through a Glass Darkly I already talked about, and while I'm not huge on Winter Light that film still kicks like a mule, and I know Blondie is a fan (to the tune of 10/10, I believe). The final film, The Silence, is possible the most grueling thing I've seen from the man, while still being sort of vague weirdly enough. Not all amazing, but all worth seeing.


Wed Jun 08, 2011 5:34 pm
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Post Re: 154 - Cries and Whispers
Zeppelin wrote:
JamesKunz wrote:
We normally occupy opposite ends of the film-watching spectrum--okay, not opposite ends, because I think Vexer has that staked out for himself, but fairly far opposed in terms of the importance of art vs. story--and that's the case here.


Very true (and this isn't the first time it's been brought up, either), but that's never stopped me from respecting your opinion, which you defend well, unlike... well, yeah.

JamesKunz wrote:
I like Bergman more when he's less experimental and more focused on character and plot. So my favorites are Scenes from a Marriage and then Wild Strawberries. Persona is his only film that I've actively disliked (though I found it erotic too!) but The Seventh Seal left me fairly cold too.


That's funny; The Seventh Seal is probably my third favorite behind the two I mentioned. A question: Have you seen Bergman's Faith Trilogy? They're all superb dramas, and I think you'd like them a great deal if you haven't already seen them. Through a Glass Darkly I already talked about, and while I'm not huge on Winter Light that film still kicks like a mule, and I know Blondie is a fan (to the tune of 10/10, I believe). The final film, The Silence, is possible the most grueling thing I've seen from the man, while still being sort of vague weirdly enough. Not all amazing, but all worth seeing.


Yeah it's really no accident that I've seen 9 Bergman movies and avoided the faity trilogy. I respect the man to death, love a lot of his movies, but for some reason I've been holding them at arm's length. But I've exhausted his catalog of other, non Silence-of-God-movies that I'm interested in seeing, so I'll have to cave sooner or later.

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Wed Jun 08, 2011 6:02 pm
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Post Re: 154 - Cries and Whispers
JamesKunz wrote:
Yeah it's really no accident that I've seen 9 Bergman movies and avoided the faity trilogy. I respect the man to death, love a lot of his movies, but for some reason I've been holding them at arm's length. But I've exhausted his catalog of other, non Silence-of-God-movies that I'm interested in seeing, so I'll have to cave sooner or later.


The Faith Trilogy looks a little intimidating just because it's Bergman at his most deeply troubled and anxious, but I think you should take that plunge. I'd honestly be surprised if you don't end up loving at least one of the three, as most people do. I've got Through a Glass Darkly, Blondie and most people have Winter Light, and Major was, before his untimely lack of interest in movies, a huge advocate of The Silence (He never made a big, majoraphasia-defense about it, but I do recall he placed it near the top of the heap of Bergman movies he'd give 10s). I could see you digging any, or possibly all, of them. Well, maybe not The Silence. But that's worth discussing another time. Like after you've watched it ;) .

EDIT: Oh, and I think this goes without saying, but seriously: wait until you feel like courting depression before you take that plunge. They're excellent films, but like Cries and Whispers they're good at draining all of the happiness out of a room in seconds.


Thu Jun 09, 2011 3:01 am
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