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Customer Review

on April 17, 2000
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.
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