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Cries and Whispers: The Criterion Collection

The (good or bad) thing about Ingmar Bergman (depending on your frame of mind), is that watching his films for leisure (if that's possible) makes you feel like you're still in film school (if you ever went — if you didn't, now you know). The (great) Swedish director's style more or less defined the overriding characteristics of the Serious Art Film (for Playful Art Films, see Godard). There is the slow pacing, the silence, the severe lighting, the portentous close-ups of angular faces, the elliptical dialogue ("It's all a monumental fabric of lies!"), the quizzical emotional outbursts, and (of course) the subtitles. His 1972 Cries and Whispers is all that, and a perfect example of what sets Bergman's films apart from the catatonically dull output of his impostors. Even though the emotions charging his narrative (woman dying, attended by haunted sisters and tender maid, everyone plagued by dark events of past, motivations undefined) are obscure to the point of disaffection, Bergman's gift is that he makes it interesting (if not enjoyable) anyway. His choice of riveting actors (Harriet Andersson, Kari Sylwan, Ingrid Thulin, and, naturally, the spellbinding Liv Ullmann), his (and Oscar-winning cinematographer Sven Nykvist's) use of color (engrossing fades to saturated red), and his casual depiction of horror all make you feel richer for having watched it (whether you liked it or not). Criterion's DVD release of Cries and Whispers is a solid affair, with a largely flaw-free new anamorphic transfer (1.66:1), including the original mono soundtrack in Swedish, plus the option of an unusually excellent English-dubbed track. Quite a bit more entertaining than the film itself is a rare, candid 52-minute Swedish television interview with a startlingly revelatory 82-year-old Bergman and actor/friend Erland Josephson, which is simply engrossing and a must-see for all Bergman aficionados. Keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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