Two estranged sisters, Ester and Anna, and Anna's 10-year-old son travel to the Central European country on the verge of war. Ester becomes seriously ill and the three of them move into a hotel in a small town called Timoka.
In the midst of a civil war, former violinists Jan and Eva Rosenberg, who have a tempestuous marriage, run a farm on a rural island. In spite of their best efforts to escape their homeland, the war impinges on every aspect of their lives.
In turn-of-the-century Sweden, cancer-stricken, dying Agnes is visited in her isolated rural mansion by her sisters Karin and Maria. As Agnes' condition deteriorates and pain management becomes increasingly more difficult, fear and revulsion grip the sisters, who seem incapable of empathy, and Agnes' only comfort and solace comes from her maid Anna. As the end draws closer, long repressed feelings of grudging resentment and mistrust cause jealousy, selfishness, and bitterness between the siblings to surface. Written by
To see Liv Ullmann, whose nature is so warm and natural, play a role in which her warmth is superficial and fraudulent, is a little offsetting; yet, great actress that she is, she pulls it off, so that if I had never seen her before, I would believe she was that way.
"Cries and Whispers," much ballyhooed, I recall, when it appeared, seems too psychoanalytically intense today; dark and mysterious, beautifully filmed in an intense red-yes, very striking against the northern cold, but somehow not entirely convincing. The people are cynically presented as tortured animals caring only for themselves, without a scrap of genuine feeling for others. Anna, the maid, is the exception, so that she may serve as a foil for the rest of them.
Harriet Andersson gives a striking performance as Agnes who is dying of cancer. I have seen what she portrays, and can tell you she expressed it in all its horror and hopelessness. Ullmann plays Maria, one of her sisters who touches others easily, but without real feeling, so that the touches mean nothing. For those who grew up cinematically during the seventies, she was a great, expressive, sensual, flawless star of the screen, one of Ingmar Bergman's jewels. Bergman himself of course was already a legend by the time this film was made, a great master who did what he wanted and what he felt, yet never lost sight of the audience. What he seems to be saying here is we are desperate creatures living a cold and ultimately empty existence. The ending clip seems an after thought that seeks our redemption, but it arrives too little too late. We are lost.
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