Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Ingmar Bergman frightens me.

Obviously I don't mean that in a literal sense- I don't see a picture of him and cower in fear. Perhaps more precisely I should say that Ingmar Bergman's films scare me. Excepting, maybe, the almost melodic and enrapturing beauty of Wild Strawberries (possibly my favourite Bergman film, at least up to this point), those films of his that I have thus far seen have dealt in the most abstractly terrifying realities of the human soul that it's often tempting, while watching them, to run screaming from the television or computer (or theatre if you're so lucky) and deny that they ever existed.

That is, by the way, not a criticism but the most deeply meant compliment, because Bergman, hardly the cheeriest of directors, manages to inject such bare truth into his works that watching them is literally like being confronted with the worst impulses of your own soul. This seems particularly true in the case of Cries and Whispers, so sharp and direct even through Bergman's familiarly abstract imagery that I think my mouth fell open in abject terror or disbelieving horror about ten times. So attuned is Bergman to Karin's (Ingrid Thulin) savage distanciation, Maria's (Liv Ullmann) conniving coquettry, Anna's (Kari Sylwan) sly derisory judgments, that you can barely move for wrenching observation and reflective lucidity. Restricted so firmly to this one country house it seems forceably bound to it, Bergman's close shooting style wraps us in a deep claustrophobia only increased by the sounds of the title and the constant, vivid use of the colour red. Add to this spellbinding performances from the actresses- watching Thulin cruelly, coldly enunciate every word at one point is transfixing, and Ullmann is just as superb, particularly in her subtle, complex facial expressions- and you have an experience that is painful, raw, delicate but entirely rewarding. Cries and Whispers is not an easy film to like, but it is easy to love, to hosanna, and, horrifying though it is, I think Bergman would see it as fitting that there seems to be some masochistic impulse within me that wants me to go back and drag myself through it again. A

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