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Wednesday
Jul302014

Bergman's Ghosts

This is TFE's late entry into the Hit Me With Your Best Shot gallery of Cries and Whisper's finest moments

Ingmar Bergman will never die. We need not be literal about this. Yes, the great Swedish auteur passed on in 2007 but his rich inimitable* filmography is not of the corporeal so much as its of the spirit (however despairing) or at least the deep recesses of the psyche, if you'd care to differentiate. In collaboration with fellow geniuses cinematographer Sven Nykvist and actress Liv Ullman he captured many of the greatest close-ups in the whole of cinematic history. In a Bergman/Nykvist/Ullman close-up it's not the eyes that are the window to the soul so much as the face as the soul, fully visible even when its bathed in shadow. 

Yet even revealed it's still unknowable. 

best shot

When I first saw Cries and Whispers in college while pursuing my own self-guided lessons in film history, I was astonished by the film's signature move. Each of the  three "living" characters, if you can call them that, the sisters Maria (Liv Ullman) and Karin (Ingrid Thulin) and the family's housekeeper Anna (Kari Sylwan) are given bookend close-ups. These closeups house memories or dreams or scenes from their point of view. The closeups fade to red and are accompanied by indecipherable whispering. The impression isn't as simple as a haunting; Agnes (Harriest Anderson), who isn't afforded this expressive close-up luxury is still alive when this first starts happening. This unfathomably perfect artistic motif has already removed the film from the literal by the time Agnes dies at which point the film becomes even more incredible, disturbing and profound. What is haunting these women? Any answer feels correct whether you've imagined regrets, the abyss of death, life itself, or the living nightmare of toxic relationships.

 

*Woody Allen has tried but no one will ever duplicate him.

See everyone else's choices for "Best Shot" here...

For completists of if you're curious I've included the two runner up shots I considered as "Best" after the jump

bronze

This image highlights the film's bold production design and I love that the bed, which usually appears bright red, appears inky black in this lighting and there's all that negative space to the right where a loved one should be. But neither of Agnes's sisters are very good at being "loved ones"

silver

This image is from my favorite scene in the movie, in which Anna in something like a dream state approaches both sisters, seemingly in trances, who are moving their mouths as if to speak but no words are emerging. I love anything that reminds me of Liv Ullman's willfully mute astonishing performance in Persona.

 

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Reader Comments (5)

Just watched this last night especially for the series. I appreciated the artistry and enjoyed the film as much as something so downbeat can be enjoyed but I felt by the end I had spent an hour and a half inside a giant tomato. It was great to read through all the best shot entries since there was so much to take in from the film and it helped me get more out of the film than the one viewing would have.

My choice for best shot came about 15 minutes in when Agnes is recalling her childhood isolation and watching her mother through the lace curtains. They blow gently around her always keeping her eye in focus. That moment seems to show her otherness, her distance from her sisters who seem not to care for her though it's obvious they do in their way and don't have the facility to express it. It's also a welcome respite from the relentless red and the framing is great. I'm not sure if it's deliberate or not but the white surrounding her in a way symbolized the innocence of Agnes' childhood, twisted though it was my the remoteness of their mother, she even comments at that moment that her mother is unexpectedly gentle with her which was a rare occurrence. Also it provides a glimpse of her life before her illness which has now rendered her a gasping, sad husk of her former self.

July 30, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

joel6 - good scene. I love the casting of Liv Ullman in both roles (mother & child). The redness of the movie doesn't bother me at all but i know pop culture crazy was driven crazy by it in her entry yesterday.

July 30, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

One of the greatest films ever made. Though it took me multiple viewings to grasp this. (And I'm yet to see a really decent print of the film - though even in a faded version, that cinematography is jaw-dropping.)

Meantime, what's the asterisk for after 'inimitable'?

July 31, 2014 | Unregistered Commentergoran

You chose a great shot if only because those trio of close-ups from Maria, Karin and Anna bookending their flashbacks were a genius directorial touch. Also it calms the momentum and shoots us back to the immediate present of them waiting, waiting, waiting for Agnes to finally die.

July 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMark The First

goran -- an attentive reader and I let you down, argh! I meant to put in a thing about "woody allen has tried"

July 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

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