R, and oh boy do I hope I cover all of it in this one. At first, the movie seems kind of tame. Then there's an affair and whatever. Perhaps I shouldn't be so lackadaisical about infidelity, but then I forgot about genital mutilation. There's genital mutilation that leads to the character putting blood on her face. I forgot about that for a second too. It also has a not unnoticable amount of nudity in it. It's a pretty brutal movie at times and the R rating is right on target. R.
DIRECTOR: Ingmar Bergman
My mood is not a Cries and Whispers mood. IMDB says I should use the ampersand, but other websites say the word, "and", so I'm going to go with what I remember from the Blu-ray box. For those people wondering, I'm not on a Bergman kick. Sometimes I get on a Bergman kick. But I was at a used DVD store and I found both Persona and Cries and Whispers on Criterion blu-ray for a really low price. Yeah, I'm going to pick those up to write about them. What? That's a reasonable thing to do.
I'm so happy, especially, because I get to review and analyze something that came from Cinefix. Every year, I show the kids the Cinefix video talking about the effectiveness of color and Cries and Whispers is number seven. It's one of the few films that I hadn't seen on that list and it always looked so gorgeous. Yeah, Bergman can make a pretty picture. Cinefix talked about the fact that Bergman thought of all of his films as black and white with the exception of Cries and Whispers and boy, oh boy, do I love it. Look at the still above. That still is not one moment in the film. Almost every shot of that film has that really intense look of color, mostly focusing on red. I'm going to go off of the deep end with some analysis stuff and most of it is going to be wrong. There's one real downside to producing this much content is that there is only so much research I can do before I post yet another analysis. I justify it in a way that helps me get five minutes of sleep before I go on and do something else for my media empire. (I'm getting there, guys. Media empire, AWAY!) But the way I justify it is that, if I stay somewhat ignorant of all of the essays written about the subject, I can offer something that is truly unique. It may not be the best criticism in the world, but it also doesn't necessarily stand on the shoulders of those greats. I read a lot and if I have time, I read what smarter people than me have said about artistic giants. Instead, I kind of have to just slightly adjust my schema to what is being said about these great moments in film. So please, continue reading and telling me I'm wrong. I'm very okay with that.
Cries and Whispers did something else to me that Persona really didn't. If Persona is kind of a distancing movie, relating to issues that are attached to specific personalities, Cries and Whispers seems to be a far more universal film. Dealing with the sickness and death of a sibling, the fact that everyone encounters death on some scale instantly allows Bergman to kind of tie into some of the weirder elements that we see in his films. Again, I hate the word "weird" to be ascribed to Bergman. It kind of feels like I'm treating his works as something "less than" when I'm really quite in awe of a film like Cries and Whispers. "Weird" seems to be the realm of Tim Burton. But Cries and Whispers uses the color and the world of these family members as something quite gory. I mentioned in the MPAA section that there's genital mutilation. That part wasn't a lie and the gore there is very uncomfortable. But the movie as a whole really doesn't deal with death directly. Instead, there's an element of The Masque of the Red Death (or, if talking about the short story, "The Masque of the Red Death") to the whole thing. The setting matches the emotional and spiritual state of the entire film. I get that setting is supposed to do that, but this is in your face. The odd thing about how Bergman pulls of his color scheme is that it is in your face, but it isn't on-the-nose. I know it seems like I'm splitting hairs, but I'm not. The color choice of the film, the blaring red, knocks the viewer on his rear end quite quickly. Part of that is that it creates an instant emotional connection with Agnes, who starts off the film as an invalid, dying. We get to see snippets of her in health, but we don't really know her outside of the context of death. But even without the removal from that context, Agnes is a very real character for us and I think a lot of that is her surroundings. The red is oppressive and unavoidable. There are moments where Agnes and her sisters walk around the garden, giving us relief from the oppressive colors. But we always tend to return to this stark environment. The jump from red to the garden only makes the return to the red more intense. Bergman scares us with the red, we become comfortable with it. But then he brings us back and allows the juxtaposition between the two places to remind us that the red shouldn't be seen as something passive. Instead, like the spectre of death, it is a force to be reckoned with. This is me waxing poetic, but that's a little bit how sickness is. For some reason, folks around me keep dying from horrible debilitating diseases. It's hard to think of sicknesses like cancer as defining elements, but they really are. Cancer changes people. It changes our relationships. The sisters in the film have an artificiality about all of their interactions because of the uterine cancer. But Agnes is a character who, at least for them, has lived a life that did not involve the uterine cancer. Bergman's exploration of the almost artificiality of invalids is kind of powerful. There's almost a hatred for Agnes and what she has brought upon this house.
One thing about Bergman is that he tends to strip away the politeness of society. I just gave a long treatise about how the film deals with the artificiality of dying and I'm going to try and stand by that. But the way that Bergman really nails that idea down is how everyone else in the house treats each other. I can't help but look at the relationship between Maria and Karin and how much more dramatic it gets than real life. I don't know if I'm just living in a bubble where people don't talk to each other like that, but Bergman seems to revel in it. I suppose this is drama and it just makes sense to get to the heart of the matter. But it is interesting the world that Bergman lives in. People repress everything for a while and then just completely unload. I mean, I get that I'm not suppose to really get a light tone in Bergman movies. I don't remember anything that could ever be considered a joke in a Bergman film. But what Bergman is playing with in Cries and Whispers is the natural tension that is ramped up in the wake of death. One of two things happens when someone dies. People get way too overly polite or people break down. Normally, Bergman doesn't really need an excuse to have people yell at each other and completely tear each other down. But in the wake of death, that kind of makes a bit of sense. Emotions are all out of wack. If Bergman's movies previously have a surreal quality to them because of intensity, this one actually kind of seems...realistic. I know. There's stuff that couldn't be seen on a daily basis. But that also doesn't seem like it exists in a different world from ours. As existentialist and avante-garde as he gets, this world is a heightened version of our own. People make weird decisions. They cheat on spouses. There's almost something melodramatic about the whole thing. There's a fairly functional narrative. There is one moment in the film that gets outright bizarre. I actually did a quick Google search on this one, despite the fact that I prided myself on coming up with my own insights. There's the idea that the scenes near the end might be a dream. There is a sequence where the two sisters discover that the dead sister might not actually be dead. I mean, she dies pretty clearly. There's a funeral. The conversation is otherworldly, so the concept that Agnes was just asleep doesn't really scan. But both sisters interact with the corpse. The one sister, who has been reserved and distant for the majority of the film, shies away from her. She sees this moment as unnatural and bizarre. She wants no part of the resurrected Agnes. However, the other sister is somewhat pleased by the change in fortune. She talks and communicates with Agnes, returning to her role as nursemaid to the dying girl. But in this moment, the corpse grabs her and attacks the girl, pulling her down. Probably not a moment of reality, but I don't want to discount anything in a Bergman film. This is the moment that made the movie for me. It is this gutsy moments where Bergman can really get his point across. Instead of one of the sisters being psychologically healthy and the other unhealthy, Bergman explores the toxic nature of both personas. The reserved sister, Karin, survives the resurrection. But in no way is she happy. She still refuses to be touched at the end, despite that moment of catharsis earlier in the film. While she is alive, her misery isolates her and she must treat life with disdain. Agnes actually turns away from Maria, showing that the dead would even reject this kind of character. It's really just damning. I have a couple of theories on this scene. Like I mentioned in my Persona review, any single interpretation isn't really doing it justice. Using the dead and the element of wish fulfillment, Bergman is able to comment on the falsity of relationships. It reduces the binary of good and bad to open up the doors to the fallibility of all. I want to backpedal a bit though, because, as depressing as Bergman gets, his films never seem wildly pessimistic. Perhaps its the way he films his movies, but his films never have a toxic attitude towards life. Yeah, I don't watch him when I want to be uplifted. But these are movies where people are cruel to one another, but don't feel like movies about cruelty.
There's a lot to break down in Cries and Whispers, but I think that the film works best as an experiment in mood and tone. There's something extremely almost hallucinogenic about watching the film. This is coming from a guy who doesn't do sensory altering substances. But there's something out of body that comes with watching this movie. I actually feel a little bad for analyzing this movie because it is almost a feeling of the film doing what it needs to with you. The colors and the performances are almost just an experience. Honestly, if I watched the movie without subtitles, I might have had an even crazier experience because I don't know if I need to understand every detail. Bergman is a weird dude. While I adore Fanny and Alexander, I think Bergman is sometimes like art. Understanding every element might make it better, but a lot of it comes from reactionary moments. The movie is quietly savage. I think I love Bergman, but I'm never going to be smart enough to be able to wax poetic correctly.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.