A stunning union of two of Sweden's national treasures, Autumn Sonata pairs Ingmar Bergman with Ingrid Bergman for their only joint effort. Ingrid plays a mother who, after forsaking her family for a music career, attempts... more » a reconciliation with her oldest daughter (Liv Ullmann) through a night of painful revelation. Sven Nykvist contributes glorious Eastmancolor cinematography to this quietly beautiful story of forgiveness. Criterion is proud to present Autumn Sonata in a gorgeous digital transfer.« less
"Writer/director Ingmar Bergman examines the strained relationship between a mother and daughter in "Autumn Sonata," starring Ingrid Bergman and Liv Ullmann. Eva (Ullmann) has not seen her mother, Charlotte (Bergman) in seven years; a successful concert pianist, Charlotte has spent a good portion of her life on the road, but after losing her long-time companion, Leonardo, Eva invites her to come to the parsonage where she and her minister husband, Viktor (Halvar Bjork), live, for an extended visit. Charlotte accepts, but soon after her arrival, old wounds and feelings begin to surface, and the film becomes an intimate character study of the life-long dysfunctional relationship between Charlotte and Eva, during which director Bergman intricately examines the causes and effects of all that has passed between them during their lives. It's an in-depth look at the emotional damage human beings are capable of inflicting upon one another, and how fragile the line between love and hate becomes when subjected to incessant neglect by even one of the parties involved. As the story unfolds and the principals bare their souls-- at last revealing a lifetime's worth of repressed feelings-- it becomes an emotionally devastating experience for the audience, as well, for there is much contained within the dynamics of this situation that most viewers will be able to identify with and relate to within their own lives. Ingmar Bergman is a Master of presenting life as it truly is; reality-- and portraying it on the screen-- is his domain, and throughout his career he has veritably created almost a genre of his own in doing so. With a microscope of his own design, he scrutinizes the basic instincts of the human condition, what makes people tick and how and why they relate to one another as they do. Much of what he presents is startling, and always emotionally involving, because he penetrates so deeply and succinctly into the heart of the matter, as he demonstrates so superlatively with this film. His methods and style are unique, his talent unequivocal; many others have attempted to capture the essence of that which Bergman has perfected, but few have succeeded. Interestingly enough, Liv Ullmann is one who, as a director, has probably come the closest to achieving that classic "sense" of Bergman, with her films "Private Confessions," and "Faithless," both of which were written by Bergman. In her role as Eva, Ullmann gives one of the best performances of her career, for which she should have at least been nominated for an Oscar; that she was not is nothing less than a gross injustice. She so skillfully conveys the depth and complexities of her character, and the differing emotional levels to which Eva is subjected, that it creates a lasting impression and makes her someone with whom it is easy for the audience to sympathize. It makes you realize, upon reflection, what a truly gifted actress Ullmann is. And, as good as Ullmann's performance here is, it is equaled-- though not, I would say-- surpassed, by Ingrid Bergman's portrayal (in her final theatrical appearance) of Charlotte; and in a renewal of faith that there is some justice in the world after all, she received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress for it. In retrospect, it seems somehow inevitable that the two Bergmans came together at last, though it's somewhat lamentable that their career paths did not cross sooner. There is some consolation, however, in the fact that when they did finally join forces the result was such a powerful, memorable film. The supporting cast includes Lena Nyman (Helena), Gunnar Bjornstrand (Paul), Erland Josephson (Josef) and Linn Ullmann (Eva as a child). An intelligent, thought provoking and emotionally wrenching film, highlighted by outstanding performances and beautifully photographed by Sven Nykvist, "Autumn Sonata" is an example of filmmaking at it's best; it's a lasting tribute, not only to the immense talents of Ingmar Bergman and Liv Ullmann, but to Ingrid Bergman, one of the most beautiful and gifted actresses ever to grace the silver screen."
Another Bergman classic
Brian A. Gross | Birmingham, AL USA | 04/18/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Beginning with The Seventh Seal, I have been enamored with the austere and intellectual world of Ingmar Bergman. His cinema is so literate and engaging, without being boring or preachy or devolving into baseless abstraction. Recently I was able to see his 1978 film, Autumn Sonata, with Liv Ullmann and Ingrid Bergman and was touched by its emotional power.Starting with an introductory monologue by Viktor, the pastor of the area and husband of Eva, it sets the tone of the piece and explains Eva's feelings of lovelessness and distance. After hearing of the death of her mother's lover, Eva invites her mother Charlotte to visit, and after a seven-year hiatus, the old professional pianist acquiesces. Eva's feelings towards Charlotte are very complex and we seem them unfold throughout the film, the layers peeling away, eventually, on both sides. Charlotte's arrival shows a sophisticated and worldly older woman who is demanding and easily overshadowing of her quiet daughter. Quickly upstaging the situation, Charlotte breathlessly tells Eva the tale of Leonardo's slow death and her bedside vigil, suddenly changing gears when she hears her other daughter, Helena, is staying with Eva at the parsonage, and has been for several years. Charlotte's face shows her shock clearly enough and would not have made the visit had she known. When she sees Lena's deteriorated condition, spastic and only able to be understood by Eva, she still maintains control of the situation, though we know she is internally at odds with her outward features.It is apparent Eva still longs, like a child, for the approval of her mother. When she describes the feelings she has after the death of her son, Erik, her mother listens politely and doesn't attempt to touch on the real emotions there. She stands in the glare of her own emotional spotlight and cannot shake the egoism that always surrounds her. The death of Erik created departures of different levels for his parents - one the one side, Viktor's life "grayed again," but Eva's feelings for Erik were left uncorroded. She thinks of heaven as "a world of liberated feelings" and one night of insomnia with her mother brings about the chance to share her true feelings with her.Eva recounts to her mother all the missed time from her adolescence; when Charlotte was abroad entertaining foreign crowds and indulging her own selfish appetites. Eva's wine bibbing loosens her tongue and it turns into a raw and emotional exchange. During this time, they depart from their mother/daughter roles and deal with the other - for the first time - as equals in adulthood. In her lengthy and beautiful soliloquy, Eva states "you had the charge of all the words in our home." A grand way to put it, and Bergman's great success in the writing of these difficult scenes is the lack of sentimentality and the balanced pathos. The scenes are emoted wonderfully by the two actors and captured beautifully by long-time Bergman cinematographer, Sven Nykvist. The film crescendos at this point and is heading for a recapitulation of all the elements, which marks a musical sonata. Autumn Sonata is a great film in the Bergman corpus and not to be missed."
Five stars to Criterion for transfer
Miko | Jersey City, NJ United States | 09/12/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I previously reviewed this film on a VHS format and now that I've seen the DVD, I have a greater appreciation for this Bergman masterpiece and the highest respect for Criterion for the finest treatment it gave this film. The colors are more enhanced and finally I got to watch it in its original Swedish language with English subtitles. There is also an audio-narrative that's very interesting. I hope Criterion will handle the releases of Bergman's other great works like "Cries and Whispers" & "A Passion of Anna". A DVD to own!"
Be sure to try out the dubbed English language audio track.
G. Bestick | 12/29/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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."
Mother and Child Reunion
G. Bestick | Dobbs Ferry, NY USA | 12/10/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Two of Scandinavia's top actresses light up the screen in this classic tale of a mother and daughter trying to get a grip on the past and on each other.
An aging but still magnetic Ingrid Bergman is Charlotte, a concert pianist with an international reputation. She gets a letter from her daughter Eva (an incandescent Liv Ullmann) inviting her for a visit. The two haven't seen each other for seven years. In that time, Eva has married Viktor (Halvar Bjork) a pastor in rural Norway and moved to the parsonage with him. They've had a son together, Erik, who drowned when he was four. Charlotte has another daughter, Helena, with a spastic condition that renders her nearly mute and mostly immobile. After Charlotte arrives, Eva informs her that she's moved Helena into the parsonage, which Charlotte reads as a rebuke to her own decision to place Helena in an institution.
This is one of Ingmar Bergman's chamber movies, in which he puts a small number of characters in a claustrophobic setting and steadily builds up the pressure until emotions explode. Charlotte and Eva start off cordial to one another, but Eva's anger at her mother for sins of omission and commission can't be contained. Her sense of grievance builds, reaching a crescendo in a late night scene where the wine comes out and the gloves come off.
As is often the case with Ingmar Bergman's chamber movies, a somewhat schematic script is offset by brilliant moviemaking. This begins with the actresses. Ingrid Bergman (ill with cancer during the filming) gives a superb performance. Ullmann's would be astonishing if he hadn't seen her hit these heights in Bergman's movies time and again. Cinematographer Sven Nyquist's captivating lighting shows the characters moving in and out of the shadows in the parsonage, an analogue for the moments of illumination and concealment Eva and Charlotte experience in their confrontations with one another.
The blocking and framing and editing are superb. In one particularly mesmerizing scene, Charlotte is at the piano playing a difficult concerto. All of her attention is on the instrument. Eva sits on the bench next to her, and we see Charlotte in profile to the right of the frame and Eva facing forward. As Charlotte plays, a lifetime of emotions pass across Eva's face: appreciation tinged with envy at her mother's talent; sadness at the price her mother paid to pursue that talent, and sadness at the cost to those who loved her; and, finally, anger as she realizes she's lost her mother yet again to music, the one thing that truly matters to Charlotte. It's a stunning piece of acting and filmmaking.
Charlotte leaves for her next concert. We see her on the train with her agent. Her makeup is in place, and the confusion and vulnerability she let peek out during the long night with Eva have been tucked away. Charlotte is a tough woman for whom the show must go on, no matter the price. Our last glimpse of Eva is back at the parsonage. She's written another letter to her mother; she hopes they'll continue trying to reach out to one another. Eva has had her catharsis, but she's still locked in to the little girl she was, endlessly yearning for what she'll never get. We see Charlotte reading the letter, skepticism spreading across her face: she's not going back there.
As Peter Cowie points out in his commentary, the characters' scripted emotions resonate in Bergman's personal life. As he reveals in Bergman Island, the recently released biographical film by Marie Nyrerod, Bergman felt guilty about neglecting his own children while he poured all his emotional energy in to his film and theater families. This movie is an earlier attempt to come to grips with that guilt, and makes the case for both the narcissistic artist and the victims damaged by the artist's emotional triage. The two great actresses use their magic to bring this dilemma movingly and memorably to life."