The Film (5/5)
I have to admit Bergman film's are like an addictive drug to me. I bought the maestro's Silence of God trilogy box set on a whim with some Borders gift cards I had a decade ago (Winter Light is still my favorite of his works), and while most would argue that is not the greatest starting point for a fan to access his work I found myself positively enthralled in the powerful stark imagery and drama Bergman created. I began immediately to track down all that I could, which was quite easy, considering that Criterion and MGM had released quite a number of his film's on DVD (others such as his 1958 film Brink of Life still remain unreleased stateside). His most popular films tend to be his late 50's work like the Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries, but during the 70's he began to once again stretch his dramatic muscle, much like his aforementioned Silence trilogy with films featuring a limited cast with powerful devastating drama. The most popular of these films is arguably his 1972 film Cries and Whispers, released to Blu-ray at long last in March 2015.
In the late 19th or early 20th century Sweden, Agnes lies in bed dying, seemingly of lung cancer. The illness has taken it's time to take her, but she is now in her final days. She is being observed by her 2 estranged sisters Maria and Karin, and her long time servant Anna, whose devotion to Agnes may exist beyond her paycheck. The 3 do their best to make Agnes' final days as bearable as possible, while using her passing as a way to look back on, and make changes to their own existence.
The first half of the film sees the sisters and Anna deal with the process of Agnes dying. Trying to make her feel comfortable, and to make it past the ordeal themselves. Due to the nature of her ailment Agnes coughs loudly and the sound of which echoes through the house, the sound is an ever-present reminder to the soon to be survivors of their dwindling mortality, and the suffering that is going on in their presence. The very presence of the dying Agnes in this portion of this film offers up some truly heavy drama. However, the film overall is quite possibly Bergman's most powerful drama from the scenario itself to the imagery Bergman offers the viewer. The household the film takes place in is primarily red, which creates quite a disorienting and almost feverish atmosphere. We then get moments in flashback such as one of the sisters slashing their genatalia with a broken wine glass to make a greater point to their husband, and the film goes from powerful to downright brutal.
The performances as can be expected from the four main players are absolutely top notch, and the way they interact are absolutely natural. Aside from the cinematic feel of the presentation, it truly does feel as if we as viewers have been dropped in on a family that has lived with each other for decades, and are dealing with collective pain together.
Criterion presents Cries and Whispers in a 1080p MPEG-4 1:67:1 transfer that simply looks glorious. The colors especially the red that is prominent in the film burst from the screen, detail, most notably in the close up shots Bergman is fond of is outstanding, and of course, we have a nice grain structure present throughout.
The audio is presented in an excellent LPCM 1.0 track in Swedish. The dialogue and score come through crisp and clean. I found nothing to complain about here.
Criterion have assembled a wonderful extras package for their release of Cries and Whispers, this includes a splendid 53 minutes documentary on Bergman and his work with Erland Josephsson who played the Doctor treating Agnes in the film. We also get an introduction to the film by Bergman recorded in 2003, interviews, on-set footage, liner notes, and much more.
Quite possibly Bergman's most powerful drama, Criterion brings Cries and Whispers to Blu-ray with stunning results. The extras are elaborate and informative, and this release is of course HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.