Internal rage that bubbles to the surface into a shattering howl of anguish became a hallmark of the films of Ingmar Bergman during the 1970s. Autumn Sonata, the only film the renowned director ever made with the international star Ingrid Bergman, is perhaps the climax of these movies about dysfunctional relationships which fester for years and ultimately explode. It might not be the best of these, but it’s certainly memorable.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Audio: English 1.0 DD (Mono), Other
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 33 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-raykeep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 09/17/2013
Not having seen her internationally famous concert pianist-mother Charlotte (Ingrid Bergman) for seven years, Eva (Liv Ullmann) invites her for a stay at the vicarage where her minister-husband Viktor (Halvar Bjork) and Eva’s mentally deteriorating sister Helena (Lena Nyman) also reside. Charlotte has no idea that Eva has brought Helena from the asylum to live with her and has to make the most of reuniting with her multi-challenged, bedridden daughter. But Helena’s presence is but one of the failures that Eva throws into Charlotte’s lap during a long night of accusations and recriminations that leaves both women momentarily shattered.
The Production Rating: 4/5
Ingmar Bergman’s use of close-ups to explore every emotion that crosses the faces of his three female protagonists is unmistakably his trademark, and it reaches its effectiveness zenith surprisingly early in the film when Eva sits down at the piano to play for her mother a Chopin prelude she’d been working on. Ingrid’s Bergman’s majestic countenance registers every flicker of resignation and disappointment over her daughter’s obviously mediocre talent, but that’s just a hint of what’s to come as the confrontations between mother and daughter grow in intensity as the camera sears into their souls. Ingrid Bergman’s faux concern over her handicapped child is such a brilliantly grisly scene (you know she’d rather be anywhere other than in that bedroom with her youngest child in spasms trying to express her feelings), and the film grips in the way that the best Ingmar Bergman films do: gut-wrenching, emotional encounters either filled with screaming dialogue or anguished faces that aren’t speaking words but are nevertheless relating volumes of emotions. Elsewhere, the director chooses long shots of Charlotte tending to her longtime lover in the hospital flashbacks or Eva alone pondering her next move carefully and intersperses them with the close-ups with wonderful coordination for dramatic effect.
The film was Ingrid Bergman’s swan song to theatrical filmmaking; she made only the TV-movie A Woman Called Golda afterwards (earning a posthumous Emmy) before succumbing to cancer in 1982. She earned an Oscar nomination for this performance along with wins from the National Board of Review, the New York Film Critics Circle, and the National Society of Film Critics. It’s a portrayal in which her silences and non-verbal reactions are as important as her dialogue. As the world-famous, much-in-demand concert pianist, she’s worldly, sophisticated, and completely self-possessed, and her humbling (for the moment only, one suspects) encounter with her daughter is a master class in acting technique. Liv Ullmann gets the showier role: walking on eggshells early on and then building up to that crushing crescendo as she relates a lifetime of frustrations to her frequently absent mother. Lena Nyman is completely convincing as the spastic daughter Helena, and Halvar Bjork stands on the sidelines offering wife Eva quiet support as her loving husband. It’s also wonderful to see Gunnar Bjornstrand in the small role of Charlotte’s devoted agent Paul even if he doesn’t get to say anything.
The film is framed at 1.66:1, and the transfer is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. Sven Nykvist’s color cinematography is warm and inviting, and the colors are rich and full-bodied with accurate and pleasing flesh tones. Sharpness is usually outstanding though there are a few shots that seem a trifle soft. There are no age-related artifacts to mar the viewing experience. The subtitles are very easy to read. The film has been divided into 18 chapters.
Video Rating: 4.5/5 3D Rating: NA
The film offers a choice of two soundtracks: PCM 1.0 (1.1 Mbps) Swedish (which was the basis for this review) and the English dub track in Dolby Digital 1.0. The original Swedish mono track offers a nicely balanced mix of dialogue, music, and sound effects that is not burdened by hiss or any other age-related artifacts.
Audio Rating: 4/5
Audio Commentary: Peter Cowie delivers another of his deliciously informative and detailed commentaries on the movie.
Special Features Rating: 5/5
Ingmar Bergman Introduction (7:52, HD): the director recalls the genesis of the film after an earlier promise to Ingrid Bergman that they would one day work together.
The Making of Autumn Sonata (3:26:33, HD): still photographer Arne Carlsson’s amazing feature-length (more than twice as long as the original movie) behind-the-scenes look at the film’s production from the initial meeting of cast and crew through table readings, line and blocking rehearsals, make-up and wardrobe tests, and fifty shooting days. For fans of the movie, it’s not to be missed.
Liv Ullmann Interview (18:54, HD): a 2013 interview by the actress who recalls many tense encounters between her director and star Ingrid Bergman, some of which almost scuttled production before it got started.
Ingrid Bergman at the National Film Theater (39:24, HD): a 1981 interview (with John Russell Taylor) and question and answer session with the legendary actress talking about everything from her early Swedish films through her Selznick-Hollywood years, the Rossellini period, and her international film and stage career up to that point.
Theatrical Trailer (2:30, HD)
20-Page Booklet: contains the chapter listing, cast and crew lists, and film writer Farran Smith Nehme’s analysis of the movie.
Timeline: can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc, the title of the chapter you’re now in, and index markers for the commentary that goes along with the film, all of which can be switched on the fly. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
Autumn Sonata might not be the greatest of Ingmar Bergman’s basically two-character psyche explorations, but it’s certainly a film worth seeing for the amazing performances alone. The Criterion release’s bonus package is as impressive as the film’s audio and video transfer. Highly recommended!
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
Support HTF when you buy this title: