Cries and Whispers (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

When I watch an Ingmar Bergman film, one of the things I'm most looking for is powerful emotion. I can appreciate the creative imagery and symbolism of, say, a knight playing chess with a mysterious hooded figure representing death. But my personal favorites, the ones I feel most compelled to own and revisit, are the deeply human, affecting ones. So, you know, I'm more of a Face To Face than Wild Strawberries guy, personally. And once that criteria's in place, probably the first film everybody's mind will jump to is Cries and Whispers.
Modernized and reinterpreted by Woody Allen as Interiors, Bergman's original period piece is considerably darker, as here the three sisters are brought together not by divorce, but by the fact that Harriet Andersson's character is dying, painfully, of cancer. We discover the characters inner lives through flashbacks and dreams, while on the surface we watch their dysfunctional inability to comfort one another when it's most needed. There's an incredible red motif created by Bergman and Sven Nykvist, but as bold and distinct as it is, nothing can distract you from the film's powerful drama. The three leads: Andersson, Ingrid Thulin and Liv Ullmann, as well as impressive supporting actors Kari Sylwan and Erland Josephson, captivate and pull you through this dark meditation on death and and how we spend our time leading up to it.
Criterion debuted Cries and Whispers on DVD in 2001, upgrading from their 1999 laserdisc. Tartan issued a barebones version for the UK in 2002 as part of their large Bergman Collection - a series I find infinitely more valuable for the lesser known Bergman titles that don't have grander DVD counterparts. And now, just this year, Criterion has brought returned to the title for its HD debut on blu-ray. I've got it along with the original Criterion DVD, so let's see how things have progressed and how essential this new edition is or isn't.
Criterion's 2015 blu-ray on top, and their 2001 DVD below.
Criterion's given this film a fresh 2k scan and the first thing you'll notice are how much more vivid the colors are. The pillar-boxed 1.66:1 framing is similar, but slightly different between the two versions. The old DVD also had some interlacing issues, which you can see in the first comparison, which the blu has happily corrected. There's a little more detail to be discovered - look closely at Harriet's eyes - but both transfers seem to be very "down to the grain" already. The new transfer is quite grainy, which I don't think is any problem with the new scan. I think it's safe to assume that's just how the original film looks; so the blu is an improvement, but maybe not as drastic as one would expect. The old DVD, apart from the ghosting, holds up surprisingly well. Also, I do appreciate the stronger colors and understand there's meant to be an awful lot of red in this film; but looking at the skin tones, especially in the second comparison, I can't help but suspect that the color correction has leaned a little heavily on the red side, no? There's meant to be a lot of red objects, walls, etc that are colored red in this film, but I'm not sure that means the people should look quite so orange.

I mean, I don't know. If it's off, it's not egregiously off, and not to the point that it outweighs the benefits of the new transfer. But it's not as impressive a boost to HD as I was expecting. The lossless Swedish audio, though, is a nice improvement in either case. And both releases also offer an English dub track, which is interesting.
Of course, Criterion also comes through with some new extras. Perhaps the most compelling extra, though, was already available on the original release: an hour long Swedish television special, the title of which kind of explains it all: Ingmar Bergman: Reflections on Life, Death, and Love with Erland Josephson.

But that's all the DVD had. The new blu-ray has a bunch more. First it has another one of those great little Ingmar Bergman introductions that Criterion recorded for almost all of his films and have been including on the majority of their releases since. It's great to have some words from the man himself on what we're about to see. Up next is a 20 minute interview with Harriet Andersson. I feel like we hear from Liv Ulmann so much on all Bergman special editions, but this film was really Andersson's show, so I'm glad to see the spotlight shift this time around. There's also a great 30+ minute collection of behind the scenes footage narrated by Criterion's resident Bergman expert, Peter Cowie, who does his usual excellent job. Then there's a video essay by : : kogonada, which is decent but spends a lot of its time stating the obvious, and I don't know... feels a little arch. Or maybe I'm just letting the fact that he spells his name with a pair of colons bias me. Either way, it's okay for a quick watch but nothing special. And finally, there's a theatrical trailer, which was surprisingly absent from the original DVD.
Cries and Whispers is a classic that's just as effective today as it was when it was winning Oscars in the early 70s. They don't all hold up like this one. And there's no question Criterion's new blu is the definitive release. If you already have the old edition, though; it may not be as high priority an upgrade to blu as other titles, however. That comes down to the condition of the film itself, not anything wrong with Criterion's handling of it. But still, there's a much broader jump in quality between the old DVDs and new blus of many other titles than this one. Just so long as you have a version of this film, you're good.

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