Cries and Whispers (1973): Ingmar Bergman’s Masterful Chronicle of Pain and Death, Starring Harriet Andersson, Liv Ullmann, Ingrid Tulin

Thematically engaging, tonally grim and somber, beautifully photographed by ace lenser Sven Nykvist, and powerfully acted by Sweden’s best actresses, Ingmar Bergman’s masterpiece Cries and Whispers tells the drama of a dying woman, her two sisters, and her servant, Anna, who’s dedicated to her.

You could see the film as a realistic drama about the long, painful process of dying, as well as an allegory about different types of women and their diaparate approach to issues of family, honor, marriage, and love.

One of the most lyrical and emotional films about pain in extremely stressful times, “Cries and Whispers” records in expressive detail the impact of death on each of the sisters.

One of the few foreign-language films to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, “Cries and Whispers” received a well-deserved Oscar Award for Sven Nykvist’s brilliant cinematography, dominated by the color red and images that were integrated into the narrative emotionally as well as technically.

“Cries and Whispers” stars Harriet Andersson, Liv Ullmann, Ingrid Tulin and Erland Josephson, all accomplished performers of Bergman’s famed troupe that appear in many of his films, separately or jointly.

While all the actresses are superb, it’s Ingrid Thulin who gives the standout performance in a most difficult role, as Karin,  asuicidal, unhappily married, who once had mutilated her own vagina in order to avoid physical contact with her husband.

Liv Ullmann (Bergman’s real-life companion at the time and mother of his child) plays two roles, Maria, an earthy woman who once cheated on her husband, driving her husband into attempted suicide, as well as the women’s mother (in flashbacks).

The most arrestinhgseuences in the film are silent, poetic evocations of love and pain, with the kind of imagery that’s not only breath-taking but also juxtaposed with the utterly stark and bleak subject matter.

The film, one of my favorite Bergman’s works, should be subjected to repeat viewing as it’s rich and dense and truly gripping.

Th film is one of a piece, a work of art in which the visual style is inseparable from the text and its meaning.  The images that inform the story are so striking and poignant that’s possible to watch the film without even listening to the dialogue.  The visuals, which represent the height of Sven Nykvist’s distinguished career, offer a deep view of the relationships among the three sisters and their servant.

One image is particularly haunting, showing Agnes, dying of cancer, in the arms of her loyal servant Anna, conveying pain and suffering in a way that no words can do.

Like Persona, Bergman’s masterpiece starring Liv Ullmann and Bibi Andersen, Cries and Whispers relies on a recurrent motif of a human face split into two, suggesting the notions of divided personalities, hidden dimensions, and the inevitable tesnions between personal and public selves.



Karin (Ingrid Thulin)

Maria/Her Mother (Liv Ullmann)

Agnes (Harriet Anderson)

Anna (Kari Sylwan)

Doctor (Erlan Josephson)

Fredrik, Karin’s Husband (Georg Arlin)

Joakin, Maria Husband (Henning Moritzen)

Pastor (Anders Ek)

Maria’s Daughter (Linn Ullmann)

Agnes as Chld (Rosanna Mariano)



Produced, directed, written by Ingmar Bergman

Camera: Sven Nykvist

Editing: Siv Lundgren

Music: Chopin, Bach

Art direction: Marik Voss.

Costume: Greta Johansson


Running Time: 106 minutes