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Ingmar Bergman's late-period masterwork is one of 2013's most essential high-def upgrades....
Criterion / 93 Minutes / 1978 / Unrated / Street Date: September 17, 2013
The thing I like the most about Ingmar Bergman films is the way they lend themselves to thought provocation about personal motivations. Watch a Bergman film if you are in the mood to reexamine your life and values. In Autumn Sonata, Eva (Liv Ullmann, veteran of many Bergman films) decides to invite her mother Charlotte (Ingrid Bergman, fellow native of Sweden in her penultimate film) to live with her and her husband after Charlotte's companion dies. Charlotte is a nationally renowned concert pianist, and perhaps her work has played a role in her not seeing her daughter for seven years. At first it seems that Eva misses her mother, but her real motive is to confront her mother about her past inadequacies in caring for her and her bedridden sister.
Bergman is a magical filmmaker. He induces great performances from his actors (Ingrid Bergman is quite impressive, and she was deservedly nominated for Best Actress for this film), writes his characters with the kind of fullness that allows the audience to look beneath their surface, and maximizes the script by photographing everything masterfully. The photography was aided by Sven Nykvist (Cries and Whispers), who is one of the best cinematographers in the business.
Ingmar Bergman films are occasionally joyful and a celebration of life: Autumn Sonata is not. Ingmar made Autumn Sonata during a time when he had abandoned his home country of Sweden due to some tax problems (this movie was filmed in Norway). Ingmar could not have been very happy during this time, and Autumn Sonata is best not described as entertaining. Instead it is more accurately described as holding your attention.
The emotion and breadth of the characters here are compelling elements as their past unravels before us. Ingmar makes an interesting choice by having the husband talk to the camera, in other words having the character speak to the audience as an aside. This can be disruptive to the flow of the film, but since it takes place at the very beginning, the narrative is not harmed. More conventional (but still out of the ordinary) is the soliloquy that Ingmar employs later in the film. These choices reflect an attempt on Ingmar's part to let the audience know what is going on in the minds of the characters, and they work very well.