Thursday, February 09, 2006

Cries and Whispers


Dir: Ingmar Bergman

Well here's a pleasant movie. As a young woman dies, her sisters and housekeeper reflect over the emptiness of their lives and the struggle for escape from the prison of life. Sartre couldn't have come up with something more bleak than this one. This is not so much a movie as a visual poem, minimalist, symbolic, lyrical, dense. A great movie (aren't all of his?) but also cold and distant.

Bergman employs technique here more so than the other movies I have been watching from him. This is more Seventh Seal than Fanny and Alexander. Red juxtaposed with white is dominant in nearly every scene, the contrasting passion and coolness of this family chromatically splashed on the walls. Shards of glass, eating, hair styles, costume, all take on symbolic weight. Indeed, little in the film's spare set design does no work. The movie is overwhelming in its display of meaning.

Like in "The Silence" Bergman has used sisters to personify the various parts of our own souls, the one passionate and earthy, the other cold and cruel. The two cannot come together, either to comfort their dying third half (our own mortality and suffering) or each other for that matter. The servant represents compassion and is crushed by the weight of her repsobsibilites. Touch is a constant theme for the characters, the sensuousness of skin-to-skin bordering on the incestuous coupled with the revulsion and distance from those unable to connect.

Sound fun? The movie is so bleak, and at times surreal, that it borders on a horror film. The death scene of Agnes reminds me of some things out of the Exorcist (as does another scene that will be obvious if you have seen them both), with a similar raise in pulse rate. Each character gets a flashback to some horrific moment in their past to explain their current condition. The mood is so down that it borders on a caricature of a Bergman film.

And that is the film's flaw, if it can be said to have one. The heavy symbolism and sparse character development puts distance between viewer and moviemaker. Some people really love that stuff. I prefer a more accessible story. One cannot help but marvel at the craft, but I will always appreciate this sort of film more intellectually than emotionally. That's a matter of taste.

If someone argued to me that this was an incredibly good movie, I would not say they were wrong. But I will never love this movie like I do others. Still, like most Bergman, it is essential and should be experienced post haste.