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Ingmar Bergman
Ingrid Bergman, Liv Ullmann, Lena Nyman, Halvar Björk, Marianne Aminoff, Arne Bang-Hansen, Gunnar Björnstrand, Erland Josephson
Writing Credits:
Ingmar Bergman

Autumn Sonata was the only collaboration between cinema’s two great Bergmans — Ingmar, the iconic director of The Seventh Seal, and Ingrid, the monumental star of Casablanca. The grand dame, playing an icy concert pianist, is matched beat for beat in ferocity by the filmmaker’s recurring lead Liv Ullmann as her eldest daughter. Over the course of a long, painful night that the two spend together after an extended separation, they finally confront the bitter discord of their relationship. This cathartic pas de deux, evocatively shot in burnished harvest colors by the great Sven Nykvist, ranks among Ingmar Bergman’s major dramatic works.

Rated PG

Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Swedish LPCM Monaural
English Dolby Digital Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 93 min.
Price: $39.98
Release Date: 9/17/2013

• Audio Commentary with Film Critic Peter Cowie
• Introduction by Ingmar Bergman
• “The Making of Autumn Sonata” Featurette
• Interview with Actor Liv Ullman
• “Ingrid Bergman at the NFT” Documentary
• Trailer
• Booklet


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Autumn Sonata: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1978)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 18, 2013)

Like many, my introduction to the world of filmmaker Ingmar Bergman came from 1957’s The Seventh Seal. I initially saw this in my teens and it left no positive impression. However, in this site’s early days, we were desperate enough for content that I borrowed my dad’s copy of the Criterion DVD so I could generate a new review. To my surprise, I enjoyed Seal, but I didn’t expect that successful experience to translate to other Bergman works.

Nonetheless, I decided to push my luck when I got the opportunity to watch a later Bergman piece, 1978's Autumn Sonata. Compared to Seal, this seemed to be a less likely film for me to enjoy. Seal at least had a cool scary guy playing Death; Autumn Sonata appeared to offering nothing more than a couple of chicks whining at each other for 90 minutes.

To my considerable surprise, I rather liked Sonata. In fact, I think I prefer it to Seal, though I'm not sure I'll be able to explain why. (There's a sign of a quality review: a writer who can't articulate his thoughts! Well, at least I'm… um… I’m something about something.)

While Seal featured a lot of dialogue, Sonata turns chatty to an extreme. Essentially the film follows mother’s long-anticipated visit to her fairly estranged daughter. Make that daughters, actually, as both of Charlotte’s (Ingrid Bergman) daughters live together. Along with her husband Viktor (Halvar Björk), Eva (Liv Ullmann) takes care of her physically handicapped sister Helena (Lena Nyman).

We follow the attempts at bonding and reconciliation between mother and Eva. Charlotte wasn't exactly June Cleaver. We find that she essentially ignored her children to pursue her career as a concert pianist, and she doesn't seem all that interested in making up for lost time. The film documents the uneasy conversations between Charlotte and Eva as well as eventual confrontations.

That doesn't sound like much of a story, but Bergman - both Bergmans, actually – really make it come alive. This was the first and only time the two famous Bergmans would collaborate, and it's wonderful that such a compelling project resulted.

Ingrid produces a marvelous performance, as she single-handedly makes the movie succeed. Actually, it probably would have been good anyway, but her acting takes it to another level. Ullmann also provides strong work in her role and their scenes together soar.

That last statement shows why I liked this film so much, as I can't recall the last time that I saw real human relationships so realistically and naturally presented. We never find stereotypical histrionics or hamminess, which means both come across as full-fledged human beings. It's easy to forget that they're acting, as the film often appear almost like a documentary.

Ingrid's performance becomes even more remarkable when one considers that she was terminally ill at the time. Actually, Sonata was her last theatrical film; only the 1982 TV movie A Woman Called Golda would follow before her death that same year. I doubt she ever offered superior work; her performance seems shattering and provides additional insight over repeated viewings. (Ingrid was nominated for an Academy Award but she lost to Jane Fonda for Coming Home.)

I'd seen many spoofs of Ingmar's style over the years - most notably in SCTV’s "Scenes From an Idiot's Marriage", which casts Jerry Lewis in a typically arty and depressing Bergman opus - but he manages to avoid the apparent excesses here. Yeah, he likes his extreme close-ups, but they aren't as severe as I expected and they seem appropriate for the movie. Above all, Ingmar paces the film well and creates a wonderful tension that exploits the story and the performances.

Autumn Sonata offers one of the best, truest and most compelling character dramas I've ever seen. It demonstrates that even a populist clod like myself occasionally can get a little art into his life.

The Disc Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B-/ Bonus B+

Autumn Sonata appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.66:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. Expect a simply terrific transfer here.

Note that “simply terrific” doesn’t mean an image that will leap off the screen, however, as the character drama of Sonata - with an emphasis on interiors – doesn’t exactly boast a lot of potential for visual splendor. Nonetheless, the Blu-ray reproduced the material quite well – and looked surprisingly good even with its inherent restrictions.

Sharpness seemed strong. A few wide shots looked a bit ill-defined, but those “issues” stemmed from the source and didn’t distract. In any case, the vast majority of the movie showed nice clarity and accuracy. No shimmering or jaggies appeared and both edge haloes and noise reduction failed to occur. Print flaws also ended up as a non-factor in this clean image.

Given the movie’s title, one might anticipate a golden/orange tint, and that occurred here; though I wouldn’t call this a stylized palette, it did tend toward those tones. It displayed the colors in fine fashion, as they seemed full, warm and inviting. Blacks were deep and dense, while low-light shots demonstrated nice delineation. I felt totally impressed by this presentation, as it looked much better than I expected.

In terms of audio, the Blu-ray provided both Swedish and English monaural soundtracks. However, the mixes used different encoding: the Swedish was LCPM while the English dub was Dolby Digital.

I favored the Swedish, as it reproduced the original recordings and also brought us higher quality audio. Speech was consistently warm and natural, with no edginess or other concerns. The film came with no score and kept musical elements to a minimum; we usually heard them via instruments played by movie characters. When heard, the music sounded fine, with good clarity and range.

As one would expect from a character drama of this sort, effects remained minimal. Outside of the occasional car or the clinking of glasses, I’d be hard-pressed to cite many effects, and again, that’s fine; it’s not like the movie boasted gunfights or alien invasions. Within their restricted focus, these elements came across with good clarity. Absolutely nothing here stood out as notable, but the mix served the story in an appropriate manner; a “B-“ felt right for the Swedish track.

As for the English dub, it worked significantly less well. The dubbing seemed awkward and unnatural, and the mix came across with restricted, thin tones. Compared with the fairly robust Swedish track, the English version felt weak and dull. Unless you simply loathe subtitles, I’d stick with the much more satisfying Swedish audio.

How did the Blu-ray compare to the DVD from 2000? Audio sounded warmer and fuller, and the visuals were radically improved. The Blu-ray looked much better defined and also showed a cleaner image as well as one with more natural, accurate colors. Everything here marked a huge step up in quality.

By the way, back in 2000, I recommended the dubbed English version over the Swedish track. What can I say? I was an idiot!

The Blu-ray mixes old and new extras, and these open with a running audio commentary from film critic Peter Cowie. He provides a running, screen-specific look at the project’s origins and development, aspects of the lives and careers of those involved, cast and performances, sets and locations, story/character areas, themes and interpretation, and related topics.

At times, Cowie seems a bit more “scholarly” than I’d like, by which I mean that he leans toward interpretation/themes more than filmmaking nuggets; I prefer a more even mix between the two areas. Nonetheless, he gives us a pretty solid look at the movie and delves into a nice variety of areas. Even with my minor complaint, this becomes a valuable examination of the film.

Shot in 2003, an Introduction by director Ingmar Bergman goes for seven minutes, 52 seconds. It’s probably incorrect for Criterion to call this an “introduction”, as that term implies the filmmaker created a special welcome to the movie. Instead, we simply find an excerpt from a TV interview in which Bergman discusses collaborating with Ingrid Bergman. It’s a good little chat, even if it doesn’t really provide an “introduction” to the film.

Next comes The Making of Autumn Sonata, a documentary that focuses on footage from the original production. It clocks in at a whopping three hours, 26 minutes, 33 seconds as it gives us a “fly on the wall” perspective. We follow the movie’s creation from initial meetings with actors through aspects of the shoot.

“Making” lacks any form of interview material – well, except for a pair of short press conferences – but it compensates with its “you are there” feel. At almost three and a half hours, it can be a bit of a slog – the material starts to feel a bit redundant without outside commentary – but it’s still a treasure trove for fans of Sonata, as it delivers a ton of good production footage.

Created specifically for the Criterion Blu-ray, we find a 2013 Interview with Liv Ullman. In this 18-minute, 54-second chat, the actor discusses her relationship with Ingmar Bergman, working with both Bergmans and shooting Sonata, and reflections on the experience. Ullman contributes a good take on these topics and creates an informative chat.

From 1981, Ingrid Bergman at the NFT fills 39 minutes, 24 seconds with a live interview. Conducted at London’s National Film Theatre, the actor chats with critic John Taylor Russell about her career. This means very little about Sonata; she briefly discusses it at the 24:50 mark and again during an audience Q&A, but don’t expect insights about it.

Nonetheless, Bergman provides an enjoyable discussion. She seems honest and engaging as she looks back at her notable career; her disdain for Casablanca delivers some of the most intriguing material. I like this piece and only wish it could’ve run longer.

In addition to the film’s original Swedish trailer, we get a 20-page booklet. It combines photos, credits and an essay from film writer Farran Smith Nehme. It ends up as a typically useful Criterion booklet.

Expect a terrific character drama from Autumn Sonata. Buoyed by truthful writing and performances, it digs into its subjects with depth and grace. The Blu-ray provides excellent visuals, more than acceptable audio and a strong collection of bonus materials. We find an engaging film that comes to home video in fine fashion.

Viewer Film Ratings: 5 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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