Höstsonaten (Autumn Sonata) (1978)

I was a teenager when my mother introduced me to the films of Ingmar Bergman. I remember watching both Fanny and Alexander and Wild Strawberries with her – I wasn’t sure yet what I saw but I knew it was disturbing and had many layers I didn’t yet understand. Nonetheless, I felt all the emotion beneath.

I couldn’t help but think of my mother when I recently watched Autumn Sonata, Bergman’s extraordinary and wrenching film about a mother-daughter reunion fraught with the anxieties, fears, regrets and crises of the past. I was grateful to my mother for introducing me to Bergman even though I didn’t quite understand, and also for encouraging me to play the piano though I had neither the talent nor the ambition for it.

I don’t know whether she had seen the film already, but I was also grateful that we didn’t watch Autumn Sonata together. While our relationship is less fraught than that between Eva (Liv Ullman) and Charlotte (Ingrid Bergman), it was alarming to experience the way Bergman captures all that is powerful and fragile between a mother and daughter: the intense love, the frightening empathy, the expectation, the pulling apart and coming together like a rubberband (or in this case, a piano string). Framed by a simple set, minimal flashback, and straightforward narrative, we are not spared the simple agony of watching emotions and family history unravel. It is little wonder that Bergman remains a mentor for many aspiring filmmakers – he frames human feeling (especially of the pent-up kind) without restraint, judgment, or fear. Viewing this film – and others – can be both cathartic and agonizing.

Though I would have understood the story as a teenager, this was a film to watch as an adult, when you understand better the complexity of past narratives and the mortal necessity for forgiveness.

Höstsonaten (Autumn Sonata). Dir. Ingmar Bergman. Filmédis et al., 1978. In Swedish and English.

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