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Cries and Whispers: The Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review

Cries and Whispers (Viskningar och rop) (1972-73) movie poster Cries and Whispers (Viskningar och rop)

US Theatrical Release: December 21, 1972 (Swedish Release: March 5, 1973) / Running Time: 92 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: Ingmar Bergman

Cast: Harriet Andersson (Agnes), Kari Sylwan (Anna), Ingrid Thulin (Karin), Liv Ullmann (Maria, Her Mother), Anders Ek (Isak the Priest), Inga Gill (Storyteller), Erland Josephson (Doctor David), Henning Moritzen (Joakim), Georg Årlin (Fredrik)

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In the nearly ninety years the Academy Awards have been around, 520 films have been nominated for Best Picture.
Of those, a mere nine have been performed primarily or exclusively in a language other than English. Amidst such long odds, those nine films -- from Jean Renoir's Grand Illusion (1939) to Michael Haneke's Amour (2012) -- had to stand out in a major way to elicit recognition that even trumps the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar some of them went on to win.

The 1972 Swedish drama Cries and Whispers became the fourth foreign language production to elicit a Best Picture nomination. Though its writer-director Ingmar Bergman was frequently acknowledged by the Academy in both Foreign Film and Original Screenplay categories, Cries was the only one of his nearly sixty films to vie for the Oscars' top prize. The nomination put Bergman's movie up against American Graffiti, The Exorcist, the forgotten romantic comedy A Touch of Class and, the ultimate winner and 1973 box office champ, The Sting.

In Ingmar Bergman's "Cries and Whispers", cancer-stricken Agnes (Harriet Andersson) is dying a painful death.

Cries brings four women together in one house in the early 1900s. Agnes (Harriet Andersson) is dying of cancer. She is in great discomfort and anguish. No one can really help, but the other three women are trying. Agnes' sisters, Karin (Ingrid Thulin) and Maria (Liv Ullmann), are quite different and distant. While Karin resists any kind of human contact, Maria dresses to accentuate her bosom and has had an affair with a doctor (Erland Josephson) that led to her husband (Henning Moritzen) attempting suicide. Then there is Anna (Kari Sylwan), a housekeeper who is secretly much more than that to Agnes.

To describe the movie as slow and vague is to wildly understate its methodical presentation. This very deliberate drama spends time with each woman. Each gets a close-up, drenched in shadow, as the screen fades in and out with the color red. These characters are fleshed out nonlinearly, with flashbacks and in one instance a surreal scene. Karin confesses a hatred for Maria, one that explains the icy nature of their strained exchanges. Meanwhile, Agnes seemingly knocks on death's door again and again.

The charms of Maria (Liv Ullmann) over Doctor David (Erland Josephson) have grown weak with time.

Cries and Whispers is the third Bergman film I've reviewed and easily made a weaker impression on me than the other two: the much earlier Wild Strawberries and slightly later Autumn Sonata. Cries is a weighty and kind of bleak film. It's also a strange one to register so well with the Academy at a time when popular,
high-grossing American films were claiming most of the five yearly Best Picture slots. This kind of inert, intimate character study lends to a repeat viewing, one that I cannot give it for the purposes of this review. But for me it certainly lacks the obvious appeal of the similarly substantial, somewhat existential, slightly better regarded other Bergman films I've seen.

At the Oscars, Cries lost to The Sting in the Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, and Costume Design categories. For some reason it wasn't in contention for Best Foreign Language Film; Sweden, whom Bergman often represented, strangely did not submit anything for competition from 1973 to 1975. Still, the movie didn't leave Oscar night entirely empty-handed. It beat The Sting, The Exorcist, The Way We Were, and Jonathan Livingston Seagull to win Best Cinematography for Sven Nykvist, who would win again ten years later for his visuals on Bergman's Fanny and Alexander.

The Criterion Collection, which brought Cries and Whispers to DVD all the way back in 2001, recently issued the film on Blu-ray and in a new two-disc DVD, each wielding new bonus features and an improved restoration while retaining spine number 101.

Cries and Whispers: The Criterion Collection Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.66:1 Widescreen
1.0 LPCM (Swedish), Dolby Digital 1.0 (English)
Subtitles: English
Foreign Extras Subtitled; Not Closed Captioned
Suggested Retail Price: $39.95
Release Date: March 31, 2015
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Clear Keepcase
Also available as 2-disc DVD ($29.95 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video
Previously released as 1-Disc Criterion DVD (June 19, 2001)


Criterion Blu-rays never look less than great and this one is no exception. The over-40-year-old-film sports flawless picture with amazing clarity and detail in 1080p. The 1.66:1 element truly leaves nothing to be desired. Sound is offered by default in a Swedish LPCM 1.0 monaural soundtrack in DTS-HD master audio. A Dolby Digital 1.0 mono English dub is surprisingly offered as well, perhaps honoring the late Bergman's wishes.

Director Ingmar Bergman describes the circumstances from which the film came in his 2003 introduction. Despite the dramatic nature of the film, on-set footage shows the four leading actresses having a fun time together.


The Blu-ray's all-HD extras begin with Ingmar Bergman's introduction to the film (7:08). Produced for Swedish television in 2003, this is the same type of intro found on other recent Criterion Bergman discs. In a Fårö screening room,
the director tells Marie Nyreröd about the circumstances behind Cries' creation -- conceived as a vision of four women in white -- and also discusses the importance of color on one of his first color films and the origin of the title. It has great, obvious value.

Next comes Criterion's 20-minute interview of Harriet Andersson, conducted by film historian Peter Cowie in January 2012. The English language chat deals entirely with Cries and Whispers, as the actress reflects in detail on playing the dying Agnes and working with Bergman and her castmates.

"On-Set Footage" serves up exactly 34 minutes of silent making-of material. Cowie provides audio commentary over it to make sense of what and who we see, from press conferences to hair and make-up to the sets of the location production.

Ingmar Bergman is interviewed alongside his longtime friend and frequent actor Erland Josephson in this 2000 television show. ::kogonada's video essay makes extensive use of still frames from the film.

"Ingmar Bergman: Reflections on Life, Death and Love with Erland Josephson" (52:18) preserves an engaging long 2000 television interview of the director and his lifelong friend and repeat actor.

Discussing their methods, tastes, families, romantic histories, and mortality, they speak in Swedish, their words translated by subtitle, but introductory voiceover is in English. This was the only bonus feature included on Criterion's original 2001 DVD of the film.

"On Solace" (12:49) is a brand new video essay by someone called ":: kogonada." Dryly voiced but strongly researched and composed, this appreciation breaks Cries into its three movements reflecting the three characters.

Finally, we get a US trailer (1:54) for the film, which is narrated by Bergman (who calls it Whispers and Cries) as more of a making-of short than a conventional film preview.

The menu plays clips and performs red fade-ins and fade-outs to piano score. As always, Criterion authors the disc both to resume playback of all things and to support setting bookmarks on the film.

The final extra is found inside the keepcase: it is one of Criterion's signature booklets, which includes film and disc credits plus "Love and Death", a dense new 6-page essay by professor and scholar Emma Wilson. Deconstructing the film, it speaks of Bergman's portrayal of actresses and exploration of "maternal eroticism."

Icy sister Karin (Ingrid Thulin) harbors secret hatred and an aversion to human touch.


On a first viewing, Ingmar Bergman's Cries and Whispers gives you a lot to think about and process, but not too much to love. Though methodical drama tackles big ideas in a thoughtful way, I have to admit I did not find as much to enjoy as in the other films from the director that I've seen.

Criterion lovingly treats this film to a stellar like-new restoration and a good collection of substantial bonus features.

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Related Reviews:
Directed by Ingmar Bergman: Autumn SonataWild Strawberries | New to Blu-ray: Hoop DreamsSingles
1970s Best Picture Nominees: Breaking AwayLennyThe GodfatherChinatownLove StoryNashvilleTaxi Driver
Foreign Films: AmourThe Great BeautyThe Strange Little CatThe Vanishing (1988) • Babette's Feast
1970s on Blu-ray: 3 Women¡Alambrista!Grey GardensThunderbolt and Lightfoot

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Reviewed April 12, 2015.

Text copyright 2015 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1972 Svensk Filmindustri and 2015 The Criterion Collection, Janus Films.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.