Ingmar Bergman is one of the greatest (maybe, arguably, THE greatest) directors of all time. Ingrid Bergman (no relation) is one of the greatest (possibly, arguably, THE greatest) actresses of all time. For one of them, `Hostsonaten' marks their greatest cinematic achievement. For the other, it marks a very nice contribution to a long list of cinematic achievements.
I'll give you a hint, Ingrid is H-E-A-V-E-N-S-E-N-T here.
`Hostsonaten' is a beautifully tragic tale of family and the way we can shield ourselves from responsibility so much so that we ultimately believe we have none. Charlotte is a famed concert pianist who has segregated herself from her daughters for seven years. When her eldest, Eva, invites her to come spend some time with her and her husband, Charlotte is hesitant, but she ultimately welcomes the invitation, only to be forced to face her insecurities as a mother when Eva unveils a secret. Charlotte's youngest daughter, the tragically ill Helena, is living with Eva. Taking place over the course of one night, Charlotte and Eva basically carry on one VERY IMPORTANT conversation that shapes the way they view each other and themselves.
Before I get to the acting, I want to talk a little bit about the character of Charlotte.
Charlotte Andergast is a marvel to digest, because you cannot help but sympathize with her while simultaneously getting repulsed by her. She has all but abandoned her children and (as we learn) her husband for her own selfish pursuits, but as she is brought face to face with her actions it is obvious that she never really understood what she was doing. Her final decision is further proof that she is not ready to fully comprehend her emotional state and the effect that it has on those around her. She is a conundrum, but a flawlessly natural one.
She is natural because Bergman makes her that way. Ingrid is hands-down one of the greatest actresses to ever grace the screen. This is her finest hour. With a perfect grasp of her director's vision (Ingmar has such a way with words, painting his scenes like poetry, and Ingrid beautifully speaks every line) and a stunning array of emotional daggers, Ingrid weaves her character's tale for us in a way that allows us into her mind and makes us a part of her development. There are so many `moments' here that I wish I could capture, but words cannot do them justice. The subtle yet profound way that Ingrid shakes her eyes (yes SHAKES them) while watching her daughter stumble through Chopin, the neurotic way she babbles to herself while contemplating her situation, the grand `performance' she puts on for the sickly Helena, the way she completely absorbs ever word Eva speaks and slowly crumbles; all of them are just unbelievably sincere.
I've mentioned before the power of Bergman's close-up (her face is just undeniably powerful) and Ingmar uses that face to perfection here. Her final close-up, when reading Eva's letter, reminds me much of the final moments in `Goodbye, Again', where she realizes her character's encroaching fate.
And yet, to single out Bergman almost seems unfair when she is matched every step of the way by Liv Ullmann. In fact, this is the only year where I consider a tie in any category, and that is because these two actresses are just perfect compliments to one another. Ullmann is flawless here as Eva, stripping her character's emotionally stunted layers bit by bit in order to build for us a gradual reveal. Her big explosion when confronting her mother about a particularly painful life changing decision she went through at eighteen is just jaw-dropping in texture. Despite the screams (it is a very loud and showy scene) there is a restraint that conveys a feeling of purity that transcends the baity aspect of the performance.
It doesn't feel showy, it feels natural.
With a beautifully controlled feel (the film carries a warm autumn feeling, with rich colors and textures that overlap beautifully) that embellishes upon Ingmar Bergman's directorial touch, `Hostsonaten' is not his best film, but then again, his worst would be better than most other's best. This is a theme that he has explored many times before, but with the powerhouse coupling of Bergman and Ullmann, he has elevated his themes and given them new life.
Inhale all of this.