Reunited again with director Ingmar Bergman (the two made several films together throughout the 60's and 70's), Liv Ullman stars as Maria, one of three sisters who live together in a country house. The other sister, Karin (Ingrid Thulin) is a repressed, unhappy personality while the third sister, Agnes (Harriet Andersson) is terminally ill and has to be cared for by the other two. The only real person who strives to comfort the sick Agnes is the maid Anna (Kari Sylwan), though.
Although there aren't any other visitors to the manor except for the doctor (which Maria flirts with), the two sisters remain isolated in their own worlds while their dying sister seeks their love and comfort in her last days, but she only recieves the comfort of Anna. The performance of Harriet Anderson is really, truly heartbreaking and completely convincing. A scene where she is gasping for air during one of her sicker spells is so real that it becomes almost hard to watch. Many scenes do not contain much in the way of dialogue; everything is simply and effectively told in gestures, touch and images. The red that bathes the screen is a soulful color that feels like life and energy even though Agnes is about to pass. The clocks that occasionally come up throughout the movie are also a symbol of her few remaining moments that her sisters are not spending with her and enjoying their last moments with one another. Afterwards, they are left with feelings of regret and sorrow for not doing more during their sister's time of need.
Again, Harriet Anderson's performance is outstanding as the dying sister who simply wants touch and contact in her time of need. Also wonderful are Ullman (who now is directing movies such as the recent "Faithless") and Thulin as her sisters. "Cries and Whispers" is a hard, haunting film to watch, but a powerful and fascinating one as well that gripped me for every one of its 91 minutes.
VIDEO: "Cries and Whispers" is presented by Criterion in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen. Mastered from a 35mm color reversal interpositive on a high-definition Spirit Datacine, the picture presented suffers from some flaws, but mostly looks quite good and occasionally great. Sharpness and detail are often pleasing, as the picture takes on a smooth and crisp, but not quite completely sharp quality.
The picture suffers slightly from some noticable grain. This is apparent in some of the scenes, while a good deal of the rest of the film seemed free of it. Some very small marks occasionally appeared on the print used, but the movie appeared cleaner and fresher than I would have expected from a 29 year old picture. Although Criterion has dissapointed on a couple of occasions lately ("Big Deal On Madonna Street", the Bruce Robinson films "Withnail and I" and "How To Get Ahead In Advertising"), they've done a truly great job on "L'Avventura" as well as the two Douglas Sirk movies ("All That Heaven Allows", "Written On The Wind"). "Cries" should certainly be added to the positive catagory for showing off Sven Nykvist's rich cinematography so well.
The cinematographer, who has done several of Woody Allen's movies ("Celebrity", "Crimes and Misdemeanors") really offers a series of beautifully composed images throughout the movie, with rich, bold colors (especially reds). I was impressed that the colors still look so exceptionally strong and well-saturated years later; the reds often seem to leap off the screen, and yet look perfectly rendered - never looking "smeared" or otherwise problematic. "Cries" won't stand out as one of Criterion's best works, but it's certainly still a very good transfer that really presents the film quite well.
SOUND: "Cries and Whispers" is presented with two choices: the original Sweedish mono audio with English subtitles or an English dubbed mono soundtrack that is actually not bad at all for a dubbed presentation. The audio is simply dialogue-driven, with little other detail. The audio sounded clean and clear, with no background hiss or distortion.
MENUS:: The main menu is basic and non-animated, with the options written in a similar style as the poster art.
EXTRAS:: The only extra is a 52 minute documentary that was originally aired in 1999. Bergman rarely granted interviews, but he did sit down for this discussion of his career with friend, actor and longtime collaborator Erland Josephson. This is a terrific presentation where the two discuss in no uncertain terms the ups and downs of their careers, with plenty of fascinating and sometimes very entertaining stories from over the years.
Final Thoughts: "Cries and Whispers" is a film of remarkable power and emotion that is really quite a haunting and saddening piece. Criterion's DVD edition doesn't present their best work in recent months, but the image quality certainly stands up quite well, as does the audio. The one extra is a terrific one - the interview is definitely worth a viewing for fans of the director. Recommended.
The Film ****
Video 84/B = (336/400 possible points)
Audio: 80/B- = (320/400 possible points)
Extras: 83/B = (249/300 possible points)
Menus: 70/C- = (140/200 possible points)
Value: 83/B = (249/300 possible points)
FILM GRADE: ****
DVD GRADE: B-