The film begins and ends with Eva (Liv Ullmann) writing a letter. The first is to invite her mother, the world-famous concert pianist Charlotte (Ingrid Bergman), to come and stay; the second is to apologise and make amends for a visit that went disastrously for both of them. Observing the correspondence is Eva’s husband, a placid, undemanding parish priest who loves without requiring that he be loved in return. Upstairs, Eva’s sister Helena is slowly declining into terminal illness that renders her incapable of intelligible speech. Her mother, Charlotte, would rather not have to confront the desperate, loving eyes, but Eva has rescued Helena from a nursing home where the solicitous pianist had planted her, and now the two of them are waiting to resume the relationship that Charlotte has placed repeatedly on a domestic shelf while she meets the challenge of her art throughout the world.
It has its contrivances, but Autumn Sonata is a fine, jolting, pleading assault on the ease with which we seek to discard the inconvenient past. If it were no more, it offers two spectacular performances in the central rolesoLiv Ullmann emerging with extraordinary strength from the deliberate owlish naivety of the early scenes into the biting ferocity of her major outburst, Ingrid Bergman charting a whole geography of emotions across the face as beautiful and tremulous as when it confronted the pains of other recollections in Under Capricorn.
Sweden/U.K., 1978.English subtitles.Colour.92 mins.