Thursday, March 22, 2007

Revisit: Cries & Whispers

A New World Pictures release 1972

Written & Directed by Ingmar Bergman

Karin (Ingrid Thulin) and Maria (Liv Ullmann) watch as their sister Agnes (Harriet Andersson) slowly and painfully passes away. Anchored by the servant Anna (Kari Sylwan), the lives of both sisters are described through flashbacks, which are full of lies, deceit, callousness, self despise, guilt and forbidden love.

Unlike most of Bergman's films, Cries and Whispers uses saturated colour, particularly crimson red. Like, a lot of crimson red. Of course, the color is used frequently by directors to highlight certain themes - Hitchcock used it often to accent psychological shock, M. Night Shyamalan used it in Sixth Sense to let us know there were dead people afoot - but Cries & Whispers is probably the most red movie of all time. The color is so intense and pervading that it's almost impossible not to associate it with the film after you've seen it.

Bergman explained the use of the color by saying, "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." Sounds a bit silly, but it works - the film is an exploration into the hearts and minds of its characters, and displays a range of complex emotions that can only be described as utterly human. Bergman is relentless in his portrayal of contrition and callousness, and the staunch red backgrounds only reinforce the blow. The slow pace may be off-putting to some, but end result is rich, rewarding cinematic experience. Worthy of repeat viewings.

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