Two estranged sisters, Ester and Anna, and Anna's 10-year-old son travel to the Central European country on the verge of war. Ester becomes seriously ill and the three of them move into a hotel in a small town called Timoka.
In the midst of a civil war, former violinists Jan and Eva Rosenberg, who have a tempestuous marriage, run a farm on a rural island. In spite of their best efforts to escape their homeland, the war impinges on every aspect of their lives.
After having neglected her children for many years, world famous pianist Charlotte visits her daughter Eva in her home. To her surprise she finds her other daughter, Helena, there as well. Helena is mentally disabled, and Eva has taken Helena out of the institution where their mother had placed her. The tension between Charlotte and Eva only builds up slowly, until a nightly conversation releases all the things they have wanted to tell each other.Written by
Ingmar Bergman later stated that when they first started shooting, Ingrid Bergman played her part horribly. But after they discussed it, she was "Brilliant, incredibly difficult, but brilliant". See more »
In the dialogue scene where Charlotte is lying on the floor and Eva is sitting on the sofa behind her, the shadow of the boom mic is visible on the curtains when the camera pans to Eva for a few seconds. See more »
Generally, either "Seventh Seal" or "Persona" is the film that a critic will name if s/he is stuck with the task of naming Ingmar Bergman's greatest achievement. A couple others might be named, but rarely do you hear a critic espouse the brilliance of "Autumn Sonata."
The first thing I noticed about this film is that it is, like "Cries and Whispers," nothing less than a painting. The textures, the warm reds and the close-ups of the faces of wounded souls, all combine to make the viewer realize that s/he is witnessing High Art.
Then there's the shot of Liv Ullman's wounded profile as she stares at her mother, Ingrid Bergman, while mother shows Liv how the Chopin piece should be played. It is an eloquent scene. Truly heartbreaking and unforgettable. One can feel Liv's pain begin to show itself: it is the painful shame of inadequacy and mediocrity made all the more shameful because it is mother inspiring these feelings in her.
Later, it's Liv's cruelty toward her mother in that unforgettable late night diatribe.
And finally, it's Liv's crippled sister and Ingrid's disgust at the thought that not only did mediocrity crawl out of her womb, but so did deformity and suffering.
The film is bleak (obviously) and the resolution is only slightly hopeful. It is however a masterpiece -- a film that reveals that what the world needs now is not Love, as the song proclaims, but Compassion and Grace. Liv Ullman is the only actress who can say these things without opening her mouth. Ingmar Bergman is the only filmmaker who can make a seemingly banal story into an eloquent prayer for redemption and reconciliation.
(CAUTION: Dont take mom to see it on mother's day ... unless...)
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