Monday, August 06, 2007
Cries and Whispers (1972)
Along with Fanny & Alexander, I think this is the towering work of Bergman's career (at least of the relatively small number of films that I've seen). Bergman's trademark intellectualized questions about religion and mortality are dramatized and visualized into an artwork of pure emotion, with great simplicity and complexity, harshness and grace. It's one of the finest films ever made about how we react to illness and death. Bergman uses Christian iconography and concepts about sin and redemption, yet the film can just as easily be interpreted to take place in an atheistic universe where meaning can only come from human love and devotion. This is, of course, my interpretation, that Agnes's relief from her suffering (such as it is) comes only from the love and care of Anna, and not from any promises of organized religion. When the pastor says "Her faith was greater than mine" I think he is simply offering his own rationalization for her grace under pressure in the face of an intolerable vacuum of doubt and fear.
What I find most aesthetically satisfying about the film, in addition to its impeccable craft in terms of acting, cinematography, production design, and sound design, is its unflinching perspective, Bergman's ability to look unblinkingly at human misery at its most dismal and unpleasant. While the notion that some things are better left to discretion and the imagination of the audience is often valid, I also believe that often there are subjects that demand full visualization. Agnes' death is one of those cinematic moments that is literally hard to watch, yet Bergman's camera takes it all in, performing its own act of cinematic devotion.
I've noticed that my writing seems to get a little more formalized when writing about these Bergman films. Their subject matters seem to demand it.