Blog Directory CineVerse: Songs in the key of strife

Songs in the key of strife

Thursday, May 17, 2018

It's heavy stuff, but if you can take the emotional wallop packed into Ingmar Bergman's "Autumn Sonata," you'll be rewarded with an intimate look at a troubled relationship between a mother and daughter and fantastic performances from Ingrid Bergman and Liv Ullmann. Such was the consensus reached among our CineVerse attendees at last night's meeting, who also came to the following conclusions:


  • The casting. Arguably, Ingrid Bergman is perfect to play this neglectful mother character; consider that she left her husband and daughter behind when she ran off with director Roberto Rossellini, and didn’t see her daughter for several years.
    • Criterion Collection essayist Farran Smith Nehme wrote: “Playing Charlotte meant tapping into her own choices and the reams of newsprint from the 1950s accusing her of being unfit for motherhood. And there’s another tidy irony here, one that would scarcely have escaped her director’s notice. Ingrid Bergman’s American stardom began with Intermezzo: A Love Story (1939), a remake of her Swedish hit. She plays a pianist who falls deeply in love with a married violinist played by Leslie Howard . . . and gives him up for the sake of his child.” 
    • Liv Ullmann is also fittingly cast in this role, being that she fathered a daughter with Ingmar Bergman and had expressed shortcomings as a wife and mother. 
  • Knowing that director Bergman was neglectful of his many children, partially due to his busy schedule as a filmmaker, this film could have been his attempt to show both sides of the story—that of the abandoned child and that of the artist pursuing his or her life’s work at all costs. 
  • The film opens and closes, strangely, with Eva’s husband Viktor breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience about his wife Eva; this arguably makes Eva a more sympathetic character yet also a complex one who doesn’t seem to love her husband much if at all in return. It also makes Viktor a surrogate for the audience who observes the relationship between Eva and Charlotte. 
  • It’s a credit to the filmmakers and the actors that both Charlotte and Eva can be sympathetic characters, or at least deserving of our understanding or empathy. It’s important that there be a balance here so that we can appreciate the struggle between the mother and daughter and what each represents. 
  • In the hands of a someone else, this movie would likely have been ponderous, pretentious, melodramatic and too depressing. But, according to Slant Magazine reviewer Chuck Bowen: “Autumn Sonata offers a parade of miseries that would be absurd in a lesser filmmaker’s hands, but what Bergman’s imitators have never entirely grasped is his sensuality, his tenderness and even his sense of humor; they only respond to the unhappiness, which they regard as offering piercing truth rather than metaphor…Bergman shines a light of hushed awe on his characters. At his best, and the first half of Autumn Sonata is as good as anything he ever made, the filmmaker achieves a transcendent empathy.” 
  • Art vs. family. Charlotte pursues the former at the expense of the latter, and Eva treasures the latter at the detriment of the former. “When Bergman shows repeatedly that Charlotte does not know what it is to be a mother, he is also showing that neither does Eva understand what it is to be an artist,” wrote Nehme. 
  • Using words and/or music to communicate. Blogger Norman N. Holland wrote: “The mother uses music to hurt the daughter; the daughter uses words…to hurt the mother. The whole film rests on dialogue, but then there are those powerful close-ups of faces (Bergman’s art). Music and film represent art, and words represent human love (or the failure of love), and the two spheres are, in Bergman’s work, utterly separate and antagonistic. This is a film about words and music and how the words don’t always go with the music.” 
  • Life imitates art. Consider that this film is structured like the four movements of a classical sonata, which is defined as “a composition for an instrumental soloist, often with a piano accompaniment, typically in several movements with one or more in sonata form.” According to conductor Tobin Sparfeld, “Sonatas are usually based in one key, or tonal center. They begin in that key and return there at the end. Most sonatas have three movements (fast-slow-fast), though some have four.” 
  • Finding identity through your life’s passion. For Charlotte, her identity revolves around being an artist; for Eva, she identifies with being a nurturer—of her disabled sister, husband, and dead son. 
  • Death, which is omnipresent throughout this film; think about the death of Leonardo and Erik, the condition of Eva’s sister, and the eventual death of Charlotte, who is getting on in years. 
  • Physical touch, which is shown or suggested repeatedly in this movie in the form of hugs, embraces, cheek stroking, and more. 
  • The fleeting nature of time. Bergman likes to show lots of clock faces and suggest the passing of many years, standing as a chasm between mother and daughter. 
  • Love. “This whole film is about love and attempts at love and the failure of love. The characters talk and talk about love, notably when Viktor tells Charlotte that Eva has told him she is incapable of love (presumably, because she had no mother-love as a child). 'I was quite ignorant of everything to do with love,' presumably because her parents never touched her,” wrote Holland. 
  • Now, Voyager 
  • Imitation of Life 
  • Mr. Skeffington 
  • A Dream of Passion 
  • Interiors, September, Hannah and Her Sisters, and Crimes and Misdemeanors by Woody Allen 
  • The Piano Teacher 
  • ’Night Mother

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