While I remembered this as an unalloyed masterpiece from seeing it in the theater on first release,
I had a few small problems re-seeing it 32 years later.
But, in the end, it is a remarkable film, featuring two amazing performances from Liv Ullman and
Ingrid Bergman as a mother and daughter desperately hashing out old wounds during a visit paid
by the mother, a famous pianist and cold perfectionist. Meanwhile her daughter has clung to old
hurts to the point of self-paralysis.
A moving testament to the need for forgiveness and growth.
But some of the peripheral story elements feel a bit tacked on, and to perhaps stack the deck too
easily to one side, particularly a sickly younger sister that Bergman's character can barely deal with.
It's a minor flaw, since the power of the key confrontations carries the film to the heights (and depths).
But I couldn't help wishing Bergman had trusted us a bit more to work out our own feelings about
two complex characters, as he did with the even more brilliant 'Scenes From a Marriage'.
on May 24, 2004
Both. Ingrid Bergman (in an Oscar-nominated performance - her last feature role) returned to Swedish cinema after 4 decades to play a pianist coming home to an problematic reunion with her daughter (Liv Ullmann-great as always).Yet another reason why Sven Nykvist have so many admirers.
on October 1, 2002
If you are contemplating suicide but can't find enough angst to be decisive, watch "Autumn Sonata",Ingrid Bergman's last film, and only collaboration with Ingmar. The dialogue and acting are terrific and very, well, real, but I doubt I'll ever recover my former sense of humor, since apparently:
1. Life is a steaming pile of excrement.
2.Relationships are tenuous and scarring,
3.Nobody really loves anyone.
Oh well, even bad IB is better than other stuff. So, open up your best bottle of red wine, lock up the razor blades and enjoy 8).
on October 24, 2003
I had to learn the hard way, that there are less than "perfect" renditions of this DVD out there to be sold. The first I bought was one of these. I won't go on to "name call", but paying extra for the Criterion Collection is a must for any Bergman fan. The poor film quality and subtitles (to the point they are distracting from the film and at times so bad they are humerous) make paying anything at all a sheer waste of money for a Criterion Collection substitute.
I don't agree that Autumn Sonata is a mediocre film. I think Bergman did understand women well, and portrayed this mother/daughter relationship nicely. He was able to show in his dialectically opposite approach, the vulnerabilities of the narcisstic artist and the self depreciating/ martyr. They exposed themselves, faced off and retreated to their comfortable life positions by the end of the movie. The use of the unnamed ailment of the younger daughter represents the other side of mother who often cries as a baby of her back pain, but at least is left whole enough to express herself also in her music. The death of the son at age four I think represents the symbolic death of the innocence in all of the "chamber music" of characters in this film (mother, daughters and husband) which Bergman uses in many of his movies. The sparing use of scenery and number of protagonists adds to the reality of the despair here. Anyway, I could go on too long....enough said. I think this movie is worth a watch and a long ponder.
on March 18, 2002
Ingmar Bergman really made Charlotte (played by Ingrid Bergman) to be a selfish and self-centered pianist, who is unaware of the damage that she caused her family. Moreover, she doesn't want to see the damage that she caused. Hint--the 7 year absence and her initial refusal to see Helena. I just have one question....
Would Charlotte have been a better mother to Eva and Helena if she had stayed at home? That's the question that needs to be addressed in "Autumn Sonata." Unfortunately, Ingmar Bergman refused to acknowledge it. As a result, we're left with a lop-sided movie.
In my humble opinion, I think Charlotte would have been a worse mother if she had stayed home, and was actually doing Eva and Helena a favor by going out on the road. There has been a lot of studies conducted on the effects that career-women and housewives have on their children. In some instances, the children were better off with the career-women who weren't at home so much. The career women were less likely to take out their stress and frustration on their children and instead channel them in a positive manner at work. Isn't this what Charlotte was doing? All right I asked two questions.
on December 29, 2001
To begin with, this is another outstanding transfer by Criterion of a Bergman film. I think other reviewers have made a formidable case both for the excellence of the film and of the remastered transfer. I would like merely to highlight for prospective buyers one possibly overlooked advantage to this DVD edition, namely, the alternative English language audio track, in which the voices are dubbed by the original actors. I usually avoid films that have been dubbed into English, but there are times in which dubbing is more desirable than subtitles, and "Autumn Sonata" happens to offer one of them. I realize many people understandably are suspicious of films dubbed into English, and as a rule I too prefer substitles to dubbing. And yet, I encourage you to try watching this film both with subtitles and the dubbed voices. Since the film has been dubbed using the original voices, one need not worry that Bergman or Ulmann's lines are being interpreted for them by someone else. In fact, the English translation in the dubbed audio track is far superior to the subtitled translation (probably because subtitles are meant to be READ and not SPOKEN). One day, I decided, just as an experiment, to try out the dubbed audio track, and was surprised to find that my experience of the film was enhanced for a couple of reasons. First of all, "Autumn Sonata" has so many passages of extremely dense dialogue, that I often found myself watching the bottom 1/3 of the screen rather than Sven Nykvist's superb photography. One of the most remarkable aspects of "Autumn Sonata" is Bergman's use of the close-up. At one level, this film, which is heavily comprised of close-ups, is a study of the human face, and it is no coincidence that this is probably the only film in which Ingrid Bergman appears without make-up (from what I understand, this was a constant point of contention between Ingid and Ingmar on the set). That we now know Ingrid Bergman was struggling privately with the late stages of terminal cancer during the filming of "Autumn Sonata" helps explain why Bergman's close-ups of her are among the most harrowing in cinema (I point to the scene in which she plays Chopin on the piano as but one example). To the person who criticized Bergman's direction of Ingrid in this film, I would pose the question of how else could he have achieved such an effect without undressing her of her characteristic glamor and elegance. It is interesting that this reviewer contrasts Bergman with Hitchcock because the latter made a career of heavy-handed, deprecating direction of his leading ladies, from Madeleine Carroll in "The 39 Steps" to Ingrid Bergman in "Notorious." To anyone who has reservations about the direction of Ingrid in the role of Charlotte, I encourage you to view the film again, this time with the dubbed English audio track. I just do not see how one fully can appreciate a film heavily comprised of slow, penetrating close-ups, if one has to spend time reading subtitles. As with many of their Begman films on laserdisc, Criterion's laserdisc release of "Autumn Sonata" also featured an alternative English track. However, in the case of the laserdisc, I could never watch the film with the English audio because the audio quality was so poor. Due to the possibility for storing more information on a small DVD, Criterion has been able to improve the quality of the English language track for this DVD issue. The sound, while mono, is very full, and the synchronization is excellent (not distracting at all). I highly recommend that you give the dubbed version of this film a try.
on November 4, 2001
"Autumn Sonata", from what I know about Bergman, is one of the few films he's made that he dislikes. Though, I have heard he did have some qualm with "Shame" as well. Bergman feels he made "Autumn Sonata" completely wrong. He originally had a more poetic concept for the film, in the line of "Persona". But, he adbandoned this idea and made it into a more realistic account, which he nows regrets. He wanted to build the film in the same structure as a sonata, with the changing moods of that kind of a musical piece. That sounds like the Bergman I know! It sounds like a much better idea than what he did come up with. Bergman to me writes beautiful dialogue. I think his films are full of passion, some may disagree and say his films are "bleak" and "hopeless". True, there are these elements in his films, but, thats where the passion come froms. If you were to examine a little deeper into his films, they do try to provide a strong positive message. "Autumn Sonata" lacks the passion his other films such as "Wild Strawberries", "The Seventh Seal", & "Scenes From A Marriage" have. I didn't connect with the characters. They remain cold and distant. This was not Bergman's intention.
Movies about families and how they struggle to keep together are among my favorite movies. Parents and childern rarely see eye to eye. Childern sometimes remember their childhood differently. Sometimes they remember things being better than what they actually were. Or maybe they remember things worst then what they were. Parents have a tendency to do the same thing also. "Autumn Sonata" from my view, is about what happens when you bring these things out into the open. Of course it will change your relationship with your parent or parents, but how? For better or worst? This sounds like it has Bergman written all over it. In the first few scenes I did enjoy what I saw. But, then the film slows down. Yes, the acting in this movie is wonderful, as is the cinematography by Sven Nykvist, and the choice of music is pleasureable as well. But, there just isn't any passion. There is one great scene that hits the level of intensity I wanted to entire film to achieve. The scene late at night when Eva (Liv Ullmann) and Charlotte, her mother (Ingrid Bergman) are sitting in the kitchen and for the first time they discuss Eva's youth. Here is where everything comes forward! We can see the passion the rest of the film does not have. We are caught up in this moment. The performances in that scene are so strong and believeable we forget we are watching a movie. That is without any doubt in my mind the strongest scene in this entire movie. I wish I could say I liked this film. As I am a fan of Bergman's work. Some of his films I feel are among the greatest ever made, but, "Autumn Sonata" is a lesser attempt by a genius.
Gunnar Bjornstrand has a small cameo in this film. He was in Bergman's "Dreams", yet again another brief role. And has been in "The Seventh Seal" as well.
on September 6, 2001
When Bergman made 'Wild Strawberries', about an old man looking back at the emotional failures of his life, he made the 'mistake' of having a hero too gentle and understanding to be a cold or bad person. In this film, Bergman makes little attempt to make Charlotte (Ingrid Bergman) sympathetic - her glamour and charm is noisy, superficially clever and phoney; her reactions to trauma damning.
For some reason, people thought it a big deal that filmmakers with the same surname should work together; Ingmar, however, clearly doesn't have the same imaginative, creative, historical and personal sympathy for Ingrid as he did for Victor Sjostrom, hence the flimsiness of 'Autumn Sonata' compared to 'Strawberries'.
There's nothing really wrong with it, the performances are pitch-perfect, the compositions are meticulous tableaux (the flashbacks are expecially beautiful), the narrative structure suitably elaborate and elusive. The film begins with the stolid complacency of Victor, spying and ruminating on his wife, trying to control our view of her; it proceeds by peeling back the politeness and civility and culture layer by layer, to reveal the festering, ugly scars beneath.
It just seems perfunctory, to lack passion, as if Ingmar didn't trust Ingrid to reach as deeply into her soul as he's used to demanding of his actors, because she's a Hollywood actress (despite having starred in masterpieces for Hitchcock and Rossellini). The story is much soapier, more predictable, more Hollywood than we expect from Bergman, as if to condescend to his actress, as Ingrid stands there waiting for a genuine challenge. Even Liv Ullmann seems merely professional compared to her harrowing work in 'Scenes from a marriage' or 'Persona'. The whole thing plays like one of Ingmar's 40s films done in his 70s style - he'd moved on long ago from this. Disappointing.
on June 24, 2001
Before she was an international star of incomparable charisma and beauty, and even before Ingmar Bergman became a legendary director of films bleak and intense, Ingrid Bergman played in the Swedish cinema. So it is entirely apropos that someday Bergman might direct Bergman.
Ingrid plays Charlotte, a concert pianist who has, upon the recent death of her longtime lover, Leonardo, returned to her native land to visit her daughter Eva (Liv Ullmann), whom she hasn't seen for seven years, and her husband Viktor (Halvar Bjork), who is a minister. Ullmann is frumpish in specs with her hair up and her dress loose and ill-fitting. She is Ingrid's nerdish daughter who has been throughout her life entirely overshadowed by her glamorous mother. Eva has an unpleasant surprise for mom. Her other daughter, Helena (Lena Nyman), who suffers from a crippling disease, perhaps muscular dystrophy, is on hand. Eva didn't tell her mother that Helena was now living with them. She says she didn't tell her because she knew that, if she had, Charlotte would not have come. And so we can guess that there are issues that will come out, issues between mother and daughter that have been festering for decades.
I got goose bumps seeing Ingrid Bergman as an elderly woman, and seeing the smooth, graceful style again, the elegant presence, a hint of the old gestures, the sly glances, the tentative half smiles... It was really wonderful and at the same time disconcerting to examine her face (Sven Nykvist's intense close ups expose every inch of skin) and sigh and remember and understand the effect of the passing years. Ingrid is elegant but she has been robbed of her beauty so now we are able to see her character; unfortunately Ingmar's script allows little of the real Ingrid Bergman to appear. Hers is not a pleasant part to play. She is an entirely selfish and self-centered woman who has put her career before her family, but is unaware of what she has done. Eva seizes this opportunity to punish her mother by dredging up the neglect of her childhood to throw it in her mother's face (which perhaps explains why Charlotte hasn't been home in seven years). The sheer cold hatred that Eva expresses is enough to make the devil himself cringe. After a bit one begins to feel sorry for Charlotte, despite her failures as a mother, to have a daughter so unforgiving and so hateful.
Liv Ullmann is rather startling in this portrayal, with her penetrating eyes, her hard, Neandethalish forehead, the severe specs, and the uncompromising tone of her voice. Charlotte is ashamed and begs for forgiveness and tries to defend herself, but it is no use. Eva is too strong for her. This is one of the more intense scenes in cinema, and one not easily watched. Meanwhile in the upstairs bedroom and then in the hallway and down the staircase, Helena has heard them arguing and is pulling her crippled body over the floor, desperately trying to reach them. She cries out, "Mama! Mama!" but is not heard.
Viewers might want to pick sides between mother and daughter to say which is the more at fault. Indeed, it is hard to say who Bergman himself found more at fault. Perhaps there is no fault, only human weakness and stupidity. Such scenes are usually followed by a greater understanding, forgiveness and a willingness to start anew. However, although Charlotte wants that, it is not clear in Bergman's script that anything good will come of what has happened. Charlotte leaves, the minister returns to looking at his wife, (having overheard the argument, about which he has said nothing) and Eva writes a letter to her mother. It is not clear whether she wants to patch things up or to gain another opportunity to pick her mother to pieces. The viewer is left to decide.
Perhaps the best scene in the film is the one that follows dinner the night of Charlotte's arrival in which Eva plays the piano, a Chopin prelude. She has worked hard on it and hopes to please her mother. Alas, her play is not so good. After all, the mother is a genius, the daughter only the daughter of a genius. Charlotte sits down next to Eva and takes the keys to gently demonstrate how the piece should be played. We see and feel at once the inadequacy of the daughter in her mother's eyes. It is a great scene filmed with a tight focus on the faces of the two women. When Eva turns to stare at her mother, who is, of course, playing brilliantly with great finesse and touch, the expression on Eva's face, held for many long seconds, is unforgettable.
Not to second guess the master, but I would have liked to have seen the entire movie played in this, a more subtle key than that which followed. However when it comes to dysfunction and disease, Ingmar Bergman is unrestrained.
Ingrid Bergman was nominated for an academy award for best actress in this, her last feature film (she had already been diagnosed with cancer), but lost out to Jane Fonda in Coming Home (1978).
on March 16, 2001
This was the second film by Ingmar Bergman that I have seen, the first was The Seventh Seal. I preferred this film by far and it is more typical of his work as a writer/director. I would thoroughly recommend it as an introduction to Bergman.
The performances are uniformly excellent, with Ingrid Bergman (no relation) outstanding as Charlotte, the dysfunctional concert pianist and mother of Liv Ullmann's character.
After the death of her lover (briefly but beautifully handled in flashback) Charlotte visits her daughter Eva, whom she has not seen for seven years. During the night the pair lay to rest the ghosts of their relationship while Eva was growing up.
The script is excellent, with many memorable scenes. My favourite brief sequence is when Ingrid Bergman describes how one of her conductor collaborators reminisced about one of her earlier piano concerto performances in the 1930s. That passage is beautifully written and movingly acted. Many other parts of the script remain in the mind after the film has ended.
As the confrontation reaches its climax the performances become more uncomfortable to watch, as if one is intruding on a family dispute, but that is a tribute to the quality of the performances of Ingrid Bergman and Liv Ullmann.
Criterion's DVD is non-anamorphic, but the 1.66:1 image is very fine, in places excellent for a film made in 1978.
A few brief flecks appear occasionally, and there is a slight touch of grain during the brief outdoor sequence when Charlotte arrives at Eva's house, but the warmth of Sven Nykvist's cinematography comes across marvellously. The soundtrack (which is of course speech-driven) is fine. There is also an excellent commentary by Bergman expert Peter Cowie.
The subtitles are very good, and I would stick with them alongside the Swedish language soundtrack, rather than opt for the dubbed English soundtrack.