Harriet Andersson omgärdad av Ingrid Thulin, Kari Sylwan och Liv Ullmann i «Viskningar och rop» (Svensk Filmindustri)

Mark Cousins om «Viskningar och rop»

«Cries and Whispers is hysteria, melodrama, Francis Bacon and a horror movie.»

Att Ingmar Bergman skulle ha fyllt hundra under 2018 lär få ha missat. Point of View uppmärksammar jubilaren med en essäserie där tolv filmare och författare sjunker in i sina respektive Bergmanfavoriter. Mark Cousins är först ut med «Viskningar och rop». (Text på engelska)

A dying body. A body afraid of touch. A desirous body. A physical and religious body. Three sisters and a maid. Agnes, Karin, Maria and Anna. Cries and Whispers, Ingmar Bergman’s rhapsody in red, his Mark Rothko painting, his bloody chamber, his huis clos, his Kieslowski-before-Kieslowski, is one of the great films about bodies.

It has been written about it so much. Its story has been told. What else is there to say? Instead of surveying it from on high, instead of overseeing it, maybe I should plunge into it? What would happen if I rewatched it now, for the umpteenth time, and just recorded my reactions?

Ting. Morning bells. A ticking clock. Stillness. Red and white Bolshevism and Tsarism. The film stops me with its stillness. Stops me with its lack of music. Stops me with its pain, emptiness and death. Stops me with its dolls, its overwhelming femaleness. Stops me with its symbolism , like a Puvis de Chavannes painting. Stops me with its class rigidity, its microcosm. Stops me with the blue of Liv Ullmann’s eyes. Stops me with god.

How does it do all this stopping? As it begins and then advances, we can feel it excluding the outside world. It replaces my world with its overwhelming world, a red dying cave with white stalagmites – family relationships calcified. 1972, the year it was released, was the year of Richard Nixon and the Vietnam war, of Francis Coppola’s The Godfather, of the first video games. Cries and Whispers replaces my pace with its pace. My colours with its colours. My happiness with its sadness. My gender with its gender. 

At sixteen minutes, Harriet Andersson looks into camera, like she did in Summer with Monika. This time she’s afraid and dying. Already in the film there’s the longing and loneliness of these women, and their resentment of both. «Your gaze used to be open», says Liv Ullmann as she looks in the mirror. My first tear. The feeling that we were happy once. A paradise lost. This film is paradise lost. Complacency and indolence reside in this house. 


At 25 minutes into the film, I start to realise how much it is about the human face. Islands and faces: the two image systems of Ingmar. Maybe, in his films, faces are islands. His close ups isolate them. Pray for us who are left to this «dark and dirty earth, under an empty sky». That’s the sisters in this film. At least Anna, the maid, has god and touch and her breasts. She has something the sisters can’t have, even though she’s more wrong than them.

And then, just before an hour into the film, there’s Karin’s famous, shocking scene where she cuts her genitals with a piece of glass. «It’s nothing but a tissue of lies» is said three times. She cuts herself and then smiles and licks her lips. Ullmann says «I feel like we’re in a dream», and maybe she’s right. When someone dies of cancer, everything around them changes. We tiptoe because noise hurts them.  We can smell the cancer. The stalagmites grow. Couldn’t we spend the last days getting to know each other? The film says. A nice idea, but doesn’t grieving send us inwards? Isn’t that Ingmar’s point? The pain separates us. Agnes’ body dying scares us and forces us to think of our own bodies – how we live through them, or don’t. How we block out the idea that they are aging, that they are our anchor or, at the best of times, our kite.

Watching Cries and Whispers again, it seems to be the best film ever made about the pain of life. It is profoundly anti-Romantic. It’s like visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau. To understand the world, to be a citizen, to avoid sugaring the pill of life, you have to go there. The film helps to explain what pain is, but it also suggests that it is, in part, mysterious. Agnes is in agony, but so are Karin and Maria. Agnes’ is dying pain, theirs is living pain.

Cries and Whispers is hysteria, melodrama, Francis Bacon and a horror movie.

Av Mark Cousins 26 jan. 2018