Cries and Whispers
(Sweden, 1972)

As is true for all the master directors, there is no consensus regarding Ingmar Bergman's greatest film. Many, I'm sure, will argue for The Seventh Seal or Persona, but I belong in the camp of those who believe Bergman's pinnacle as a filmmaker was achieved when he made Cries and Whispers. With its powerful visual identity and emotionally wrenching subject matter, nothing else on Bergman's resume is as devastating. Cries and Whispers is truly unforgettable (an often-overused description that genuinely applies here). It burrows its way deep into the viewer's consciousness and resides there. This isn't the kind of movie one "likes" in the traditional sense of the word. It's too uncomfortable for that. But, for anyone who appreciates a film capable of offering something more substantive than entertainment, Cries and Whispers is not to be missed. Viewing the picture is not a lightly undertaken endeavor, but the rewards more than compensate for the effort. See this movie when you want to experience something real, something deep, something soul-touching. See this movie when you are interested in exploring death and life. See this movie when you grow weary of Hollywood's superficial and facile explorations of themes that deserve the kind of frank, unglamorous perspective offered by one of the cinema's most accomplished directors.

Plot Summary (Spoilers Possible):
Cries and Whispers concerns the death of Agnes (Harriet Andersson), a young woman who has been stricken with some form of cancer. When the film opens, the disease is greedily eating away at her insides, causing moments of tremendous agony. At times, she can barely breathe. On other occasions, she awakens from sleep crying out in pain, begging for surcease. There are respites, as well - times when she can find passing enjoyment in simple things, like a walk outside or a sip of water. During her last days, she is cared for by her faithful maid, Anna (Kari Sylwan), and her sisters, Karin (Ingrid Thulin) and Maria (Liv Ullmann).

Death is a subject to which director Ingmar Bergman has repeatedly returned throughout his career. Like a person probing at a sore tooth with his tongue, Bergman cannot leave the area alone. There are those, myself included, who argue that Cries and Whispers is Bergman's most accomplished film. It is certainly his bleakest. The film is dark, brooding, and harrowing. Like many powerful films, Cries and Whispers can be difficult to endure. In many of Bergman's movies, narrative is an afterthought. That is particularly true of Cries and Whispers, where even the director's penchant for allegory has been set aside. Dreamlike and surreal, this movie impacts directly upon the soul, not the mind. Images and the disquieting feelings they engender linger long after the movie's 90 minutes have elapsed. In order to understand why Cries and Whispers is a great film, it must be experienced, not merely watched.

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