Review: Höstsonaten (Autumn Sonata, 1978)


Bergman and Bergman, together for the first and only time!

Written By: Ingmar Bergman
Directed By: Ingmar Bergman

It’s been a couple of month since I last saw a film from Ingmar Bergman, and it most likely would have been even longer of a wait if not for 70’s month leading me to skyrocket Höstsonaten to the top of my Netflix queue. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Höstsonaten was the one and only time that Ingrid Bergman acted for Ingmar Bergman, no relation, and this would be the first film where I got to watch Ingrid Bergman speaking in her native tongue. Was the pairing as great as it sounds like it should be, and does the power of Ingrid’s acting carry over into her native tongue?

The answer to both questions is a resounding yes! Both Bergman’s are at the top of their games and Ingrid loses nothing in the transition from her adopted land to her native one, and I now realize asking such a question was foolish on my part. First, we will tackle that very subject, Ingrid Bergman in Höstsonaten. In a movie such as Höstsonaten it falls on the actors to either play their roles matter of fact or to try and stretch their acting muscles and bring drama to the part. But, a role such as that of Charlotte doesn’t need dramatics added to it, the drama lies in the dynamics of the story, not in the actor. The actor need only inhabit Charlotte as she has been written and the drama will come. Ingrid Bergman plays her part in a matter of fact fashion, she deals with what Eva throws at her like how we know these types of arguments play out. There is real drama in the way Ingrid decided to go with Charlotte, the type of drama that can only be brought out by an actress who understands where the drama truly resides in the film.

If the actors do their part, Liv Ullmann was equally up to the task, then it falls on the director to see the story though. Ingmar chose to play Höstsonaten out as a sort of battle. It is Charlotte versus Eva, and every blow struck is another revelation about the past brought to the forefront. Hidden in between the revelations are various lies, lies told to soothe oneself from the reality, those take the shape of feints, attempts by one character to avoid the reality of the argument and the reality of how the past actually was. Something Ingmar does is place his actors in positions so that they are floating around each other at times. There is one scene in particular that emphasizes this touch. During their initial blowout the camera zooms in to focus on the face of Charlotte, all the while Eva floats from shoulder to shoulder in the cameras background. Every time Eva’s head pops up she lands another blow against her mother, only to quickly move to the other shoulder so as to avoid any retaliation and land yet another crushing strike. This takes place seamlessly, you recognize what Ingmar is doing, but it effortlessly blends into the film.

There is one area where Höstsonaten does falter and it is a bit of a big one. The character of Helena isn’t needed, there is enough going on between mother and daughter without the inclusion of Helena. She creates an imbalance in the fight, a random character who doesn’t quite fit into the story being told. She’s not badly acted or anything like that, but her character comes across as overkill in a movie that didn’t need any overkill.

Höstsonaten is a film that ranks right up there with Ingmar Bergman all time greats, such as Det Sjunde Inseglet and Fanny Och Alexander. Ingrid Bergman gives a performance that ranks up there with her best, all I need say is Casablanca. Höstsonaten gives its story the weight it deserves and is visually compelling while allowing its actors the space they need to truly bring the pain they are in to the screen. Höstsonaten isn’t a film by either Bergman that gets talked about that much, but it is one worth seeing. If for no other reason you owe it to yourself to see an Ingmar Bergman film starring Ingrid Bergman, the mere thought is enough to make one giddy.





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