“Autumn Sonata” (1978) is a Swedish film about a grown woman, Eva (Liv Ullmann), and her husband, Viktor (Halvar Bjok), who invite her estranged mother, Charlotte (Ingrid Bergman), to come and visit. Charlotte and Eva haven’t seen each in seven years, and have a seriously strained relationship that originated during Eva’s childhood. As a famous pianist, Charlotte spent much of her daughter’s youth touring. When she was home, Charlotte was very tired from her travels, or busy preparing for her next performance.
When Charlotte does arrive at Eva’s home, she is in for a surprise or two. Firstly, her other daughter, Helena (Lena Nyman), who is both physically and mentally challenged, is now living with Eva. (Even though Charlotte had put her in a facility where she could be looked after.) Secondly, and the more prominently centered focus in our story, is the fact that Eva is ready to confront the problems between herself and her mother- whatever the result.
There are many reasons that “Autumn Sonata” is a film worth watching, but the combination of Ingrid Bergman and Ingmar Bergman, Sweeden’s two most treasured film icons, is the best reason. Whenever you get two artists as talented as this together, the sky’s the limit. Ingrid glides into the tormented world of Ingmar with the greatest of ease, and once again proves there is nothing that she can’t do. It is one of her finest performances, and unfortunately her last on the silver screen.
To insinuate that Liv Ullmann is a small or unimportant part of this film would just be a mistake. I always tend to be impressed by her work, but for this picture she has taken things to the next level. Most of the film is centered on Charlotte and Eva, and having such talented professionals in these roles makes for the very definition of dramatic excellence.
Ingmar Bergman is often considered one of the finest directors of all time, but when you watch a film as flawless as this one, how could you feel differently? He is the consummate professional, and “Autumn Sonata” is just another opportunity to show her immense abilities to the cinematic world. Guided by the soft, skillful hand of cinematographer Sven Nykvist, who always seemed to enhance every one of the Bergman films on which he worked, “Autumn Sonata” doesn’t lack in any aspect. It’s more of a get in and get out without wasting anyone’s time or energy type of movie.
One could go on and on about this film and its beauty, but the truth is that it’s just one of those things that needs to be seen in order to appreciate. If you’re looking for an emotionally charged drama filled with intense characters, “Autumn Sonata” is the picture for you.