If there is a single work that drew me to European art film as an undergraduate it was Ingmar Bergman’s CRIES AND WHISPERS. With its ticking clocks, raw yet controlled acting, and dark psychology (including an act of self-mutilation the shock value of which has only recently been equaled by von Trier’s Antichrist) it was a sort of checklist of everything that the Hollywood cinema I had grown up with was not.

I have since grown to like other Bergman films better, especially the old black-and-whites like Sawdust and Tinsel and Smiles of a Summer Night. But still I wanted to see Ivo van Hove‘s Dutch stage version of the material now playing at BAM, wondering if Bergman’s transplanted theatricality could be replanted to the theater itself. It could have been and it has been, in the austerely serious style of many reconsiderations of the Naturalist and Expressionist canons that European companies have brought to these shores in recent years: stripped down decor (lots of white), technical sophistication (mechanical set changes, mixed media), a frankness about the body and its functions (wallowing or exulting in it, as the case may be), and sharp, physically conditioned acting (ensemble and individual).

The result is stark and uncompromising, grounding Bergman’s story of a dying woman and her caretakers in the tradition of Scandinavian Naturalism out of which it seems to have grown like a pained sprout. There is Strindberg in its sap, and a bit of Ibsen too. Grafted onto it at the end are, if I am not mistaken, a few reflections by the late filmmaker himself on the nature and motivation of his art and life, making for a coda that is both moving and contemplative.

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