The red interior of UN Studio’s theatre reminds me of Ingmar Bergman’s masterpiece Cries & Whispers. I have to say I finally became a “Bergmania” after seeing this movie. Like Persona, this is also a film about women, both visually and psychologically stunning. The plot is simple: three isolated sisters get together in the manor where they grow up to take care of Agnes who suffers from womb cancer. Before the death of Agnes, neither Karin or Maria can bring her comfort. The only person who keeps Agnes company is her faithful maid Anna.
As we know, Bergman is obsessed with black-and-white picture. While in Cries & Whispers, the unique color scheme has a symbolic meaning. There are three colors: red, white and black. Red is the color of the manor’s interior which serves as a strong visual background throughout the film. As explained by Bergman, red is perceived as the color of soul. Red is also the color of desire (Maria wearing a red pajama flirting with David, the family doctor one night) and blood (Karin’s self mutilation). White is the dominant color of women’s pajamas and dresses, associated with purity, virginity, the fleeting and empty. Black is the color of death, religion, starkness and sophistication.
Implied by the title, cries and whispers make up the theme of the film. The early part of the film portrays an overwhelming agony suffered by Agnes, perhaps the most painful scene on disease I’ve ever seen. As the story unfolds, we experience a subjective flashback of Maria, and later Karin, only to get a deeper understanding of their inner world. We are shocked at each person’s distorted psyche and crying pain, since such mental pain is no less than Agnes’ physical pain. Later on, a flashback from Anna reveals the resurrection of Agnes which brings the torturing dimension to its climax. It is hard to tell the trueness of these flashbacks: they could be part of the unconsciousness, dream or illusion, and ultimately does not matter.
Cries are occasionally interrupted and dissolved by tender whispers as an attempt to bridge the gap of misunderstanding and isolation. The scene of Karin and Maria’s temporary intimate whispers and touches exhibits a similar quality seen in Persona. However, Bergman doesn’t try to satisfy us with a happy ending – it seems Karin and Maria are back to their previous conditions. What Bergman presents to us are those perfect moments, as revealed at the very end the film through Anna’s reading of Agnes’ diary, a diary that records the three sisters taking a walk together on a beautiful autumn day -
All my aches and pains were gone. The people I am most fond of in all the world were with me. I could hear their chatting around me. I could feel the presence of their bodies, the warmth of their hands. I want to hold the moments fast and thought: Come what way, this is happiness. I cannot wish for anything better. Now, for a few minutes…I can experience perfection.
Another women-themed movie I really want to watch is called 3 Women (also from Criterion Collection). It is considered having a kinship with Persona. It would be interesting to compare them together.