Monday, September 03, 2007

CRIES AND WHISPERS - a masterclass in colour photography

The more Ingmar Bergman films I watch, the more I'm convinced he is the premier horror director of the modern era. But this is no simple blood and guts slasher nonsense (although there is a horrifically disturbing scene of self-mutation.) Rather, Bergman explores the horrors of the human condition: loneliness, isolation, sexual incompatibility, fear of death and loss of faith. While these themes are ever-present in his work, in CRIES AND WHISPERS they are raised to a sort of fever pitch of (quite literally) hysteria. A woman called Agnes (Harriet Andersson) is dieing. But it's not a typical sentimental movie death. It's fierce and painful and frought with the kind of shrieks that alienate her two sisters. Although they are living with Agnes to care for her, in fact they are more scared than caring. Her death forces them to confront the inadequacies of their lives. Outwardly cold, if not frigid, Karin (Ingrid Thulin) has to resort to self-harm to show her husband how much she resents him. Maria (Liv Ullman) is a superficial flirt. She and her husband have retaliatory affairs. Only the servant, Anna, comforts Agnes.

The script and performances are outstanding. But the unique feature of CRIES AND WHISPERS relative to the rest of Bergman's cannon is DP Sven Nykvist's use of colour, and specifically the colour red. The interiors are drenched in it, creating a claustrophic, hysterical feel. It's no less that a technical masterclass in colour photography and deservedly won Nykvist an Oscar and the movie the Technical Grand Prize at Cannes.

CRIES AND WHISPERS was originally released in 1972 and played Cannes 1973. It is available on DVD.

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