Cries & Whispers (1972)

cries and whispers poster 1972 movie ingmar bergman
9.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 10/10
Visuals: 10/10

Great looking and acting

Interpretational story isn't an easy watch

Movie Info

Movie Name:   Cries & Whispers

Studio:  Svensk Filmindustri

Genre(s):   Drama

Release Date(s):   December 21, 1972

MPAA Rating:   R

cries and whispers 1972 cancer death agnes harriet andersson liv ullmann ingrid thulin kari sylwan

Horribly painful death

Agnes (Harriet Andersson) is dying.  Struck with cancer, the end is inevitable.  Tended by her maid Anna (Kari Sylwan) and surrounded by her sisters Maria (Liv Ullmann) and Karin (Ingrid Thulin), Agnes tries to endure the pain of the cancer as her time approaches.  Maria and Karin are reminded of their past as they watch their sister die and the mistakes they have made.  Death cannot be stopped and Agnes, Maria, Karin, and Anna will all have to face it.

Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman, Cries & Whispers (Viskningar och rop or Whispers and Cries) is a Swedish drama.  Following Bergman’s The Touch in 1971, the film was distributed by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures and was critically acclaimed.  The movie won an Academy Award for Best Cinematography with nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Costume Design.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #101).

This movie is rough…very rough.  Not only does it deal with the detachment of a family during a great sickness, it also has one of the most grueling death scenes on camera.  Running only an hour and a half, it might take a few breaks to finish Cries and Whispers just because of how heavy it is.

cries and whispers anna agnes harriet andersson kari sylwan

More compassion than her sisters…

The movie is very symbolic and multifaceted and is the type of movie that you could watch multiple times and never understand everything which is occurring in the movie.  The movie deals with family dynamics and creates extremely layered characters that could be analyzed in multiple ways as each character feels fully formed.  While the closest bond in the movie appears to be Agnes with Anna, the three sisters seem so detached, fearful, and almost jealous of each other (especially Anna’s relationship).  This culminates in a bizarre scene where Agnes is found alive again (and each character reacts to her).

Harriet Andersson gives one of the most terrify death scenes of all time.  Her gasping for breath and moaning of the pain feels so real, and I imagine just pulling it off as an actor would be extremely taxing.  Kari Sylwan plays the more quiet emotional character (and religious) while both Ingrid Thulin and Liv Ullman are reminded of other events in the house and how each of their marriages struggled (including a horrible scene with Ingrid Thulin and a piece of glass).

cries and whispers red room white dresses ingrid thulin liv ullmann kari sylwan ingmar bergman

Perfect composition and lighting

Visually the movie is great.  It has a real dreamy quality to it even in its most serious moments.  This can in part be attributed to the basis of the story in which Ingmar Bergman had a recurring dream of women in white dresses whispering in a red room…he captures the creepy ethereal nature of a dream with some stunning dynamic colors.

Cries & Whispers is almost more like looking at art than watching a movie for a story.  There definitely is a story and tons to digest with the film, but it also feels extremely personal and something that only the artist will truly understand (if he can even understand it).  It is a great example of a movie that is watchable even if you don’t entirely comprehend what you are seeing.  It definitely isn’t for everyone and it isn’t an easy watch for the faint of heart just due to the subject matter.  Bergman followed Cries & Whispers with Scenes from a Marriage in 1973.


Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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