Alright, get ready for some subtitles unless you know Swedish. Cries and Whispers is one of those rare foreign films nominated in the Best Picture category.
It tells the story about three sisters in the late 1800’s coming back together as one is dying. Agnes (Harriet Andersson) is dying of cancer and her two sisters, Karin (Ingrid Thulin) and Maria (Liv Ullmann) come to care for her in her last days. Agnes seems grateful that they’re all together one last time, but old tensions and grudges start to stir up. Agnes remembers how she wasn’t the favorite of their mother, Marie remembers an affair with the doctor which caused her husband to take drastic measures and Karin– I’ll get to how messed up she is later. The one person who really takes care of Agnes through thick and thin is her servant, Anna (Kari Sylwan).
The care Anna and the sisters provide is so loving. They read to her, comb her hair and bathe her nice and gently. It’s not something you see much these days. Today we stick our sick in a hospice and visit after work, keeping a safe distance.
The cinematography is artful and off putting at the same time. With the lack of music or dialogue, the image truly runs the story. And the images are strong, move the story and tell us more than the characters can say. In the film, there’s a lot of time spent looking at things: the clock with its intricate carvings, the very plain unHollywood faces and there seems to be something about red in the film. It’s everywhere: the walls, dresses, hair. Even the scene transitions dissolve to red. Director Ingmar Bergman explains that all the red is an exploration of the soul, which he believed to be in shades of red.
Now that you see there is love and care in the film, I can get into the weird stuff. I don’t know what it is about 1973 and stabbing the female orifice, but you should be warned against it. Everyone knows that happens in The Exorcist, but you don’t expect it here. I’ve thought about recording myself as I watch a film to show my initial reactions to some parts; this would’ve been the crown jewel. The whole broken glass scene is worked up so quietly and slowly intrigues you, I felt nearly hypnotized wondering where the glass would finally cut. But of all the places and the next bit right afterwards…you could’ve viewed me muffling my screams into a my little Purdue pillow and curling up on the couch in fetal position. YouTube worthy.
From there on, it only gets weirder and weirder until the end. But it’s wonderfully fucked up. I won’t give away anything else, but the weird stuff really pushes us to the brink of insanity. The things that happen are not sane. It’s all really really morbidly fucked up and yet kept so quiet and dignified that it’s believable and intriguing.
“It’s true. I think… about suicide. I’ve often thought about it. It’s… it’s disgusting. It’s very degrading and everlastingly the same.”