Challenge Week 52: Autumn Sonata

Finishing the Challenge out with a classic Bergman-Bergman film, the only one Ingmar and Ingrid ever made together, and it’s a doozy.

There are Ingmar Bergman films I love to bits, but I often find him a tough nut to crack, his film striking me as a bit austere and aloof rather than the deeply humanistic works I know they are. That kind of happened with Fanny and Alexander earlier last year, but with Autumn Sonata, it was almost TOO raw and full of naked emotion.

Ingrid Bergman is a concert pianist who comes to visit her daughter (played by Liv Ullmann), who wants nothing more than for her distant and exacting mother to love her. Half the movie is a dance between them as Bergman goes from gracious guest to petulant diva on the turn of a dime, and Ullmann goes from groveling to defiant almost as quickly, but they’re still feeling each other out.

It comes to a head in a late night verbal knockdown dragout that’s just about as grueling to watch as it must have been to experience, but that stands as an absolute tour de force for both these actors. The best thing (Ingmar) Bergman did in this situation was write the dialogue and then get the hell out of the way for Bergman and Ullmann to run with it, and they certainly do. For any daughter who’s ever fought with her mother (I have, but not nearly at this level, thank God), this is tough stuff, but real.

It’ll be difficult, but I want to eventually watch it again, as the ending didn’t quite satisfy – but likely it’s not meant to, and a rewatch would confirm that. I’d been putting this one off because I had a feeling it would be pretty emotionally devastating, and it was, but I’m glad I was given a motivation to get on with it, and I’m glad I saw it. My mom and I also both play(ed) the piano, so the scene where Ullmann plays a piece she’s proud of for her mother, only to have her mother rip her technique apart was especially relatable (and I could see it coming a mile away, which made it even more heartbreaking).

Stats and stuff…

1978, Sweden
written and directed by Ingmar Bergman
starring Ingrid Bergman, Liv Ullmann, Lena Nyman

I’m ranking all my Challenge films on Flickchart (as I do all the films I see), a movie-ranking website that asks you to choose your favorite between two movies until it builds a ranked list of your favorites. Just for fun, I will average out the rankings and keep a running tally of whose recommendations rank the highest. When you add a film to Flickchart, it pits it against films already on your chart to see where it should fall. Here’s how Autumn Sonata entered my chart:

Autumn Sonata > Sylvia Scarlett
Autumn Sonata > Batman (1989)
Autumn Sonata < Frozen (2013)
Autumn Sonata < Get a Horse!
Autumn Sonata > It Might Get Loud
Autumn Sonata < Whale Rider
Autumn Sonata > Revolutionary Road
Autumn Sonata < No Service
Autumn Sonata > The Secret in Their Eyes
Autumn Sonata > The Pirate
Autumn Sonata > The Stratton Story

Final #780 out of 3765 (79%)

It is now my #5 Ingmar Bergman film, my #5 Ingrid Bergman film, my #2 Liv Ullmann film, my #35 Family Drama, my #6 Reunion Film, and my #3 film of 1978.

Autumn Sonata was recommended by Bas van Stratum, a friend from the Flickcharters group on Facebook. Averaging together this #780 ranking with my #551 ranking of his other film, 8 Women, gives Bas an average ranking of 665.

A Few More Screencaps

  • Alex Withrow

    Great review here. This one certainly isn’t easy to take, but I did get a lot more from it on my second viewing. But you’re so right, it is very emotionally devastating.