Thursday, July 06, 2006

Autumn Sonata


Dir: Ingmar Bergman (The Magic Flute; Hour of the Wolf; Persona; Scenes From a Marriage; The Virgin Spring; Cries and Whispers; Fanny and Alexander; Wild Strawberries)

One day I will see a Bergman film that isn't amazing. The day I watched Autumn Sonata was not one of those days. The hands down greatest moviemaker ever to live astounds once again with this examination of a mother-daughter relationship. Tried and true subject matter, the perfectionist and distant mother and her reserved and resentful daughter, eleveated into high art by the true genius of Bergman's writing. I am now ready to call him the greatest contemporary dramatist as well; each movie could be staged in a theater. His dialgoue is brilliant, and his ability to capture emotion and expose it completely is among the greatest writers I have ever encoutered.

At some point, I will have to get away from my Bergman hyperbole. But every film I encounter from him just reinforces my awe. In this one, we also get the talents of Ingrid Bergman (no relation), no less compelling in her older years. She plays a concert pianist, fovever on the road and neglectful of her family. Liv Ullmann (as always, wonderful Liv) is the mousy daughter. The first half of the film captures the awkwardness of their relationship when Ingrid makes an unexpected visit after years away. The unknown presence of her other daughter, crippled by a musular disease, immediately sets the visit off on the wrong foot. After ably trying to make things work, and cover up their mutual dislike, the mother and daughter have it out in the film's second half.

Those scenes are so powerful, so honest, so well acted and written that I was dumbstruck. Bergman is the best writer of female characters I have ever seen, in any genre. Father/son movies are common, but I found this to perfectly and uniqulley capture the other familial binary without the customary sap or maudliness, at least as far as I can understand that relationship. The trademark Bergman closeups are here, long takes that do indeed feel like scenes in a play with intense focus on facial expressions and the nuance of reaction that great actors can convey.
The movie, by the way, is worth seeing just to experience Ingrid Bergman working in her native language. That husky voice she used so well in her sheepish role in Murder on the Orient Express is here confident, demonstrating her amazing range as an actress, truly one of the best ever.

This is definitely among the best of the best catalogoue of film. Yet another entry into the essentials. I cannot be more effusive in my praise for this man and his art.