I wrote this review for The 3rd Wonderful Ingrid Bergman Blogathon! Check out the other posts here!
After creating an international scandal with her affair with Roberto Rossellini, Ingrid Bergman stayed in Europe and started a new chapter in her personal and professional life. After receiving acclaim for her role in Anastasia (1956), she returned to America and won an Academy Award. For the next two decades, she continued making films in Hollywood and abroad. In 1978, Autumn Sonata was released. The film was the only collaboration between Ingrid Bergman and Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. With such a long career of unforgettable performances, Autumn Sonata remains Ingrid’s most nuanced and memorable performance.
Ingrid plays Charlotte, a famous pianist who visits her daughter Eva, played by Liv Ullmann, after seven years apart. As the film progresses, we learn more about the mother and daughter relationship which is far from perfect. Eva has struggled to recover from a neglectful childhood based on her mother’s distance. Charlotte also learns her paralyzed daughter has been taken out of the hospital and living with Eva. Over an emotional night, Eva and Charlotte confront eachother and try to find peace.
Autumn Sonata is a testament to Ingrid’s devotion to her work. In every frame she’s in, Ingrid fully commits to the character she’s playing. A character who’s very different than who she’s used to playing. It’s inspiring that so late in her career, Ingrid still took risks in the roles she chose. It most likely helped that the film was written and directed by Ingmar Bergman, one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. It’s a surprise it took this long into both of their careers for the collaboration to happen. Ingrid elevates Ingmar’s already perfect script by bringing a sense of humanity and depth to the detached character.
In one of the most memorable scenes, Ingmar lingers the camera on Charlotte’s face as she listens to her daugher play the piano. Ingrid portrays a multitude of emotion ranging from anger, happiness, and sorrow in the short scene. With such a complex range of emotions, one would think Charlotte will open up to Eva and try and make up for choosing her career as a pianist over her daughter. Instead, Charlotte asks Eva to play something else because she thought the interpretation of the music was wrong.
Perhaps a reason Ingrid took this role was because of the similarities between her and the character of Charlotte. Both Ingrid and Charlotte chose their career over their own daughter. When Ingrid began an affair with Roberto Rossellini, she left her husband and ten year old daughter Pia. Pia was devastated when Ingrid abandoned her. Although, Ingrid and Pia reconnected a few years after the scandal. Ingrid felt bad the rest of her life for what happened. Charlotte on the other hand, has trouble admitting she abandoned Eva and ultimately doesn’t reconcile. At least Ingrid knew how her actions damaged Pia and tried everything she could to mend the relationship.
All of Eva and Charlotte’s repressed feelings, built over their entire lives, come to light in an explosive and heartbreaking argument that takes up a majority of the film. Eva believes Charlotte hated her and her sister. As a child, Eva was afraid to be herself when Charlotte was around in fear of being criticized by her mother. Charlotte reacts by claiming she doesn’t know anything about love because of the way she was raised. She could only express feeling through her music. She knew Eva loved her but she was incapable of loving her back because she was afraid. She admits she was childish and selfish and wants to be accepted by Eva.
In the morning, Charlotte leaves in a rush. It appears nothing was changed after the emotional night. Charlotte talks with a friend and inquires why her paralyzed daughter hasn’t died yet. Eva writes Charlotte a letter apologizing for the visit and vowing to be persistent in eventually reconnecting. Although it’s likely the two will never forgive each other. The actions of the past will plague the two for the rest of their lives. Hopefully, Eva will recover and learn to love herself and be loved in return but her mother won’t be involved.
Autumn Sonata was Ingrid Bergman’s last major film which makes it even more interesting to watch. With a long career spanning almost 60 years, it’s fascinating that perhaps her best role came so late in her life. It earned her an Academy Award nomination for best actress which she unfortunately didn’t win. Hopefully Autumn Sonata will continue to be watched by those who love Ingrid and Ingmar because it’s an extremely moving film that is hard to shake off.