Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Expecting Richard Nixon To Peek Out From Behind The Drapes

Ingmar Bergman’s “Cries And Whispers”, from 1972, is a beautifully-lighted and beautifully-photographed film (courtesy of Sven Nykvist).

Nonetheless, the film’s three-color scheme of red (representing death), white (representing the purity of womanhood) and black (representing the power and brute force of men) is far too obvious and far too monochromatic and far too limiting.

The film’s portrait of three oddly-matched sisters is straight from the realm of soap opera, its tale of suffering and redemption so cut-and-dried it might as well have originated in a serialized novel commissioned by women’s magazines.

The film is watchable only because of the craft of Nykvist and the remarkable performance at the film’s center of Harriet Andersson. Andersson is harrowing as the sister dying of cancer; without Andersson’s presence, the film would be pure cartoon. One regrets when Andersson is off-screen, because the actresses portraying Andersson’s sisters are either laughably bad (Liv Ullmann) or sheerest camp (Ingrid Thulin).

The psychology of the film is 1970s through and through. The film’s underlying hysteria—melodramatic and grievance-laden—is taken from news magazines of the period. The film’s jaundiced, cynical view of humanity—a humanity steeped in misery and corruption—is rooted in then-prevalent geopolitics (a time during which the West was believed to be losing the Cold War).

Fundamentally, the film is nothing so much as a Swedish “Parallax View”—shorn of the necessary assassin. Paranoia and dark misgivings are everywhere. Evil lurks around every corner.

Whenever I see “Cries And Whispers”, I keep expecting Richard Nixon to peek out from behind the drapes.

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