Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Autumn Sonata

I find Ingmar Bergman a very polarising director - while I yield to no-one in my admiration for a dozen or so of his films, a lot of his other ones I simply had no interest in seeing at all! So for all those favourites like THE SEVENTH SEAL, WILD STRAWBERRIES, SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT, THE SILENCE, PERSONA, CRIES AND WHISPERS, AUTUMN SONATA or FANNY AND ALEXANDER there are others like THE SERPENT'S EGG or those Liv Ullmann psychodramas like FACE TO FACE or SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE that I just did not want to see, (highly regarded though they were), not even his one with Elliott Gould THE TOUCH! His opera film of THE MAGIC FLUTE is sheer delight though, one I liked a lot, and it was also good to see THE MAGICIAN from '58 recently (as per review on that), and I keep meaning to catch up with those other early '60s ones THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY and WINTER LIGHT (which with THE SILENCE - which I first saw aged 18 when new in London in 1964 - form a trilogy). Then of course there are his earlier ones from the early '50s of which I have only seen SUMMER WITH MONIKA. Ingmar certainly had a prodigious output. One stage production of his which I saw in 1970 (in fact I went to it twice) was his HEDDA GABLER with Maggie Smith at her most intense, set as it was in red rooms with black dressed characters - very austere.

I also remember going to see AUTUMN SONATA twice during its initial run in 1978, as I found it endlessly fascinating. This of course sees Ingrid Bergman back in Sweden and it provides her with a last great cinema role - I felt at the time that she and Liv Ullmann should have jointly won the best actress Oscar as they are both mesmerising and give towering performances. Bergman at this stage was already battling cancer. Her last performance was as Golda Meir for television in 1980, where she had no vanity at all as the Israeli leader.

Here she is Charlotte a well-known musician endlessly on tour who deigns to spend a few days with the daughter she has not seen in 7 years. Both women are initially uneasy in each other's company as Charlotte settles in and is horrified to discover that her other, severely disabled daughter whom she had consigned to an institution and forgotten about is also at the house as Eva (Ullmann) has taken her in and is caring for her.

Charlotte is a very talented, but completely self-absorbed woman. Eva has in her wretched state turned herself into a frump and does not seem to realise how much her pastor husband loves her. We now come to the stunning sequence where Charlotte asks her daughter to play for her and we watch mesmerised as every emotion, from pain to acceptance and maternal love, flickers over the mother's face as the daughter plays badly - then the artist in Charlotte takes over and she has to demonstrate how the Chopin piece should be played while we focus of Eva in closeup seething with rage and hated at her once adored mother, highlighting her own painful shame of inadequacy and mediocrity . A long night of the soul follows as mother and daugher accuse and lash out at each other - while the other unloved disabled daughter (Lena Nyman) also cries out in her pain and distress. It's Liv's cruelty toward her mother in that unforgettable late night diatribe that grips as the film unfolds to a kind of resolution. (It must have been harrowing for Ingrid Bergman, having the comparisions as it does with her first failed marriage and her leaving her daughter Pia, during her Rossellini period, though mother and daughter were later reconciled).

It all adds up to a beautiful and devastating film that I admire, and in the Bergman canon seems closest to CRIES AND WHISPERS in it's textures, the warm reds and the close-ups of the faces of wounded souls, as photographed by Bergman regular Sven Nykvyst (who went on to Woody Allen's rather similar INTERIORS next). The film is bleak (obviously) but not depressing and the resolution is slightly hopeful as Eva walks in the local cemetry loving observed by her husband, and Charlotte - her composure and public facade restored - continues on her tour, chatting to her agent (Gunnar Bjornstrand) on the train about those ordindary people going about their evening tasks, preparing meals etc in the houses they pass, as she goes to her next concert engagement, but perhaps she and Eva can get closer now and know more about each other, or will they never see each other again? It could be a hopeful optimistic conclusion, and a key '70s film.

Ingrid Bergman appeared several times on the London stage (A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY in '65 was an enormous hit, and I also saw CAPTAIN BRASSBOUND'S CONVERSION) and she was always very pleasant to meet and chat to, and I also saw her at a screening of CASABLANCA at the National Film Theatre where she was very informative on the film's production and answered everyone's questions. Despite the dramatics her sense of humour is also there in AUTUMN SONATA. Ullmann remains the best known of the Bergman actresses (Thulin, Harriet and Bibi Andersson etc) but her English speaking films are woefully dismal (POPE JOAN, THE ABDICATION, the widely derided remake of LOST HORIZON etc).

1 comment:

  1. Autumn Sonata is likley my second-favorite Bergman, after Through a Glass Darkly.