Sunday, January 29, 2017


The tragic back-to-back deaths of actress/author Carrie Fisher (December 27, 2016) and her mother, Classic Hollywood movie star Debbie Reynolds (December 28, 2016) offered a poignantly bittersweet, fittingly Hollywood-like end to one of my generation’s most conspicuous and compelling mother and daughter relationships.  
As though following a script co-written by centuries of accomplished mothers and the daughters who sought to emerge from under their shadow, the life trajectory that took Debbie and Carrie from the semi-autobiographical purge of Postcards from the Edge (1990) to the late-in-life mutual admiration evident in the moving documentary Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher & Debbie Reynolds (2016), played out before my eyes like a real-life Fannie Hurst novel.
There is perhaps no relationship as fundamentally complex and formative and as that of parent and child. Nor, it would seem, one as inextricably fraught with the potential for misunderstanding, miscommunication, and the inadvertent infliction of crippling psychological wounds. 
When it comes to parenting, our culture, while not wholly forgiving, is inclined to make allowances for the unavailable father. Cast by patriarchy as the breadwinner/head of the household, a father’s physical and emotional absence in the home is rarely called into question if it’s in the service of carrying out his “duty” as husband and father: i.e., being the provider of food and shelter for his family. Hollywood is full of notoriously MIA dads (Henry Fonda, Ryan O’Neal, Bing Crosby, Carrie Fisher’s own absentee dad Eddie Fisher), but public scorn fell less along the lines of their not carrying their fair share of the emotional weight of parenting, but more along the lines of morality: the absentee workaholic father, while not ideal, is acceptable; censure is reserved for the philanderer father.
The same leniency has not always been accorded mothers.

Lacking much in our culture that supports, encourages, or even explains the reality of the working mother in terms that are not subtly reprimanding; women with ambitions outside the home are generally held to a higher, more critical standard than men. Women with families still face society’s two-option-only job default setting: motherhood = essential & important; mothers engaged in any professional endeavor beyond the scope of childrearing = nonessential bordering on self-indulgent.
(It's significant to note that this distinction is rooted in race and class, and rarely applied to women of color or the working-class poor.)

Paying little heed to the reasoning that a suppressed, unfulfilled individual of either sex is very likely to make for a pretty toxic parent, our culture rewards ambitious motherhood (e.g., that Octomom nutjob, the celebrity trend of serial adoption, reality-TV shows celebrating couples who crank kids out like sausages), while questioning the “maternal instincts” of any mother who has gone on to achieve a level of success in her chosen field of profession.
Consider the fact that successful men are rarely asked if they are afraid their work will lead to the neglect of their children. Family men are expected to have both professional and personal goals; meanwhile, working mothers are forgiven their professional ambitions only if they simultaneously assert (as often and as publicly as possible) that family comes first (Diana Ross, Angelina Jolie, Mia Farrow). 
Perhaps this sexist double-standard, unfair as it is persistent, is rooted in the not-wholly-unfounded presumptive tack that views the physical act of motherhood—carrying a baby to term—as the source of a bond unique between mother and child that is incomparable to that of father and child.
But whether its source is cultural, biological, or psychological; the love/hate, push/pull dynamics of mother-daughter relationships have always held a dramatic fascination. One of the most searingly honest and extraordinary explorations into the pain that mothers and daughters can inflict upon one another is Ingmar Bergman’s Autumn Sonata.  
Ingrid Bergman as Charlotte Andergast
Liv Ullmann as Eva
Halvar Bjork as Viktor
Lena Nyman as Helena

Autumn Sonata looks at the strained mother-daughter relationship of Charlotte (Bergman), a renowned concert pianist, and timid, soft-spoken Eva (Ullmann), a onetime journalist now living a quiet life in the country with her husband Viktor (Björk), a parish minister. Seven years have elapsed since Charlotte and Eva have seen one another, the time and travel demands of Charlotte’s career still a source of suppressed resentment for the 40-something Eva, who can't help but associate her mother’s success and devotion to her art with agonizing childhood memories of abandonment and neglect.

When Eva learns of the recent death of Leonardo, Charlotte’s lover of 18 years, she invites her mother for an extended visit. Eva’s motives for the invitation, not entirely clear even to herself, ostensibly harbors the hope that perhaps, out of grief or loneliness, her independent, self-reliant mother might, at last, be receptive to the kind of familial intimacy she has clearly spent a lifetime running away from.
Charlotte's arrival makes evident the elemental differences between the two women; the mother’s radiance and vivacity fairly fill the rooms of the tiny vicarage with a life force that can't help but eclipse Eva’s low-key timorousness. Daughter cannot hope to compete, so she retreats into herself. Mother is used to the spotlight, so she has little patience or understanding of anything that falls beyond its glare. Charlotte is pragmatic to Eva’s spiritual; self-centered to Eva’s empathetic; stylish to Eva’s almost studied frumpishness, and forward-gazing to Eva’s tendency to dwell upon and inhabit the past.
Eva surrounds herself with memories of her son Erik who died before his 4th birthday.
Charlotte, busy with her concerts, never met her grandson and was absent at his funeral

Whatever water-under-the-bridge good intentions that might have existed behind Eva’s invitation are scarcely given chance to take root before Eva springs the news to her mother that Helena (Lena Nyman), Eva’s younger, equally-neglected sister who's stricken with a debilitating degenerative disease, is no longer sequestered in a nursing home, but living with her and Viktor. News which doesn’t comfort Charlotte so much as unnerve her, setting in motion a chain of events confirming her suspicions that her designer luggage won't be the only baggage waiting to be unpacked during this fateful visit.

In one drunken night of accusations and confessions, a lifetime’s worth of stockpiled regrets, resentments, and recriminations are brought out into the open. But alas, exposure is not the same as clarity, and under the deluding guise of reconciliation, the child affixes blame, the parent justifies, and each challenges the other’s reality as subjective experience masking itself as truth.
In the end, there exists not merely a separation between Charlotte and Eva, but a chasm. Time has transformed parent and child into two adults. Two strangers who know each other all too well. Two individuals who share the same blood, yet are divided by a shared past each remembers differently.

Autumn Sonata’s alternate title could well be Face the Music, for running like an undercurrent beneath this searing chamber drama about the domineering force of love—the need for it, what happens when we don’t receive it, the lengths we go to reclaim it—is the subtheme of emotional accountability. As insightfully realized by Ingmar Bergman's screenplay and sensitively rendered by cinematographer Sven Nykvist's stunning images, Charlotte and Eva’s mother and child reunion is portrayed as a despairing day of reckoning. A chance to settle old scores and confront the ghosts of the past in the blind hope of embarking on a future.
"Just wait. We all eventually turn into our mothers."
                                        Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Autumn Sonata's stacked-deck conflict—neglected daughter confronts selfish mother—is thrown a remarkable curve by Ingmar Bergman's employment of a fluid narrative perspective. Inner monologues are heard; Viktor breaks the fourth wall, directly addressing us; flashbacks and intercut action contrast and contradicts the spoken word...each of which plays havoc with any attempt on our part to draw pat conclusions regarding the truth of what has transpired between these women.

As the past is resurrected and mother and daughter confront each other with painful disclosures, the role of victim and victimizer shifts in strange and unexpected ways. Amid appeals for forgiveness that are met with blame, and recollections of maltreatment countered with denials, each woman is faced with a troubling dilemma: can a person accept another's account of the past as being true if the very basis of that truth signifies a profound misunderstanding of one another?
One usually has to reach an advanced stage of maturity before realizing that our parents are not flawless beings and are simply human. Like us, they carry the wounds and vulnerabilities of their upbringing and try to do the best they can with the gifts and limitations nature accords.  If love is imperfect and the past can't be changed, is forgiveness the true sign of our having fully grown up?

There have been a great many films about mother and daughter relationships, most melodramatic, a great many more teetering towards over-sentimentalization. But no matter the form taken: The Joy Luck ClubGypsy, Terms of Endearment, Imitation of Life, September (the latter, Woody Allen, channeling this very film)—the drama follows a natural familial pattern. A pattern that concerns itself with matters of neglect vs. over-protectiveness, and the rebellion/estrangement struggle that inevitably leads to reconciliation. (Joan Crawford's Mildred Pierce being the noir exception to this rule...that Vida WAS a pretty hard article.)
I grew up the only boy among four sisters. Both of our parents worked, our mom, in particular, finding her stride in the '70s after attending EST workshops and landing several promotions in her career working in government in San Francisco. I had my own parental issues with being a latchkey kid at the time (I retreated into movies), but my mom's fought-for and well-earned burst of feminist self-actualization during my high school years were particularly hard on my sisters. Perhaps that's why the unsentimentalized truth of Autumn Sonata resonates so strongly with me. It gets the emotions right from both sides of the argument, offering the bracing insight that some battles end with no victors on either side.
Much in the way that our parents become more recognizably human to us as we grow older, Autumn Sonata is a film that plays very differently to me now than it did back in 1978. At age 21, I wholly identified with Ullmann's character's point of view, today I can't help but appreciate the struggles of Ingrid Bergman's character as well. Both women are more alike than they'd like to admit, and as each is a product of a home where maternal love and affection were largely absent, I find that there's something hopeful (if not exactly happy) in the way each has coped. Charlotte, though indeed selfish and remote, has channeled her emotions into her art. Eva, while prone to dwelling on the past, has actually learned how to love (others, if not herself, just yet); and in caring for her disabled sister and late son, seems intent on not repeating her mother's mistakes.

Autumn Sonata is a film chock full of trivia tidbits. It marks not only Ingrid Bergman’s last feature film (one for which she was nominated for both an Oscar and a Golden Globe) but her only teaming with sound-alike countryman Ingmar Bergman. Bios note that it is also Ingrid’s first Swedish-language film in 11 years; a nifty coincidental turnabout being that she portrayed a pianist in her first major Swedish film (Intermezzo -1936) and plays one again in her final film.
Autumn Sonata marks the 9th of 10 films Liv Ullmann appeared in for Bergman, and their daughter Linn was cast to portray Eva as a child. By all accounts, when it comes to behind-the-scenes collaboration, the two Bergmans didn’t have an easy go of it at first. Ingrid’s outspokenness and studio-trained acting style were quite the departure from the usual “the genius is in” passive compliance from his familiar crew. But whatever difficulties went into the creation of Autumn Sonata prove more than worth the trouble, for Bergman and Ullmann give exceptionally raw performances.
Favorite Scene: Eva listening to Charlotte play Chopin's Prelude No. 2 in A Minor realizes that her mother's art has been the recipient of all the love and attention absent from her childhood 

A common passage in most every tell-all memoir by a celebrity offspring is that moment when the child grasps the extent to which their parent is devoted to their work. It's usually when the child sees the parent give forth with a sensitivity and emotional availability not present in the household. While admiring their artistry, creativity, and passion, the child nevertheless realizes they can never compete and will always come in second (even if marginally) to that magical "something" that gives their parent's life purpose.

Ullmann, coming as no surprise, is first-rate throughout and comes across very much at home in Bergman’s world of exposed faces and bared souls. At once heartbreakingly sympathetic, the next moment bitterly unfair, her Eva feels all the more real and affecting because her pain occasionally crosses the boundaries of reason. Ullmann’s is not an intellectual performance, but one deeply realized and felt.
But it's Ingrid Bergman who brings something altogether fresh to Ingmar Bergman's usual solemn rumination on the puzzle that is the human experience. Always a charismatic and compelling presence onscreen, here Ingrid Bergman plumbs depths I've never seen in her before. Her Charlotte is precisely the charmer she needs to be, the cold narcissist her daughter accuses of being, and the creative artist possible only in people accustomed to living with demons.
Ingrid Bergman is flawlessly unsympathetic and achingly vulnerable. I think it's my favorite of all of her screen performances.

A significant part of Autumn Sonata’s impact is the core of emotional verisimilitude running through its characters, dialogue, conflicts, and performances. Textured and nuanced in its ability to convey the heated, paradoxical perspectives of mother and daughter, at times the film feels so real it’s as though the words were taken from the transcripts of a documentary or group therapy session.
This core of truth I speak of is (at least for me) attributable to the incontestable thread of semi-autobiography Autumn Sonata is fused with by way of its cast and creator. At various times in their lives Ingrid Bergman, Liv Ullmann, and Ingmar Bergman have each been either the neglected child or the absent parent. The childhoods of both Ingrid and Liv were marred by the deaths of parents when they were very young, while Ingmar spoke often about his sickly youth and abusive father.
As adults, all three had bouts of being less-than-ideal parents. Ingrid’s well-documented affairs and marriages and 5-year estrangement from first daughter, Pia; Ullmann’s self-professed immersion in her work after the out-of-wedlock birth of her daughter with Bergman; and Bergman—5 times married, 9 children from multiple partners—whose work always came first, was perhaps the epitome of the absentee father.
Charlotte's abandoned husband Josef (Erland Josephson) consoles the adolescent Eva

Back in the '90s, I worked as the personal trainer for the daughters of three different celebrities. One was the struggling actress daughter of an Academy Award-nominated actress from Hollywood's Golden Era. Their relationship was almost identical to that depicted in Postcards from the Edge; strained at best, competitive nonstop. The second was the daughter of a famous Hollywood couple, since divorced. To hear her tell it, her relationship with her mother improved in direct proportion to the ratio of the decline of her mother's career (i.e., her mother had more time for her when her mother suddenly found herself with more time).
The third client, while admitting to being the progeny of "Two raging narcissists" and forever in their shadow, nevertheless found happiness through therapy. Lots of it, from what I understand, but it seemed to be just the trick for enabling her to let go of the unchangeable past and forge a loving relationship with her parents in the here and now.

Testament to Autumn Sonata's honesty and unblinking gaze into the human condition is how, seeing the film again after many years, I still recognize these women. I've met them before in the countless mothers and daughters I've come across in my life. I also recognize myself, I recognize my sisters, and I recognize my own mother.

Copyright © Ken Anderson  2009 - 2017


  1. Hi Ken,

    Wonderful look at this heavy, heavy film. I put off watching it for years despite my deep love for Ingrid Bergman for the dual reasons that it was obviously going to be a difficult watch and not only was it going to be a challenge it was going to be one in Swedish!

    But after watching Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries and loving it and having reached the point where the only Ingrid films I had left to watch were a few of her foreign language titles, and being sure that nothing could be more of a slog than Joan of Arc or Stromboli, I strapped in to give this a view.

    While I can’t envision myself returning to it any time soon it was a gripping experience full of accusations and recriminations. My main takeaway was how great Ingrid was as a totally self-involved woman of great talent but no outward vision beyond how it serves her no matter how she tries. It’s sad to think that here was an actress at the peak of her powers but also almost at the end of the road of her career. One positive is that this is one of the best swan songs any performer could ask for, especially when you think of the sorry sendoffs endured by such great stars as the Misses Crawford, Lake and Hopkins. I suspect that had she not won that tribute Oscar a few years earlier (that as even she said should have gone to Valentina Cortese) she would have stood a strong chance of receiving a much more deserved statue for this searing performance.

    As to the rest of the film I thought it dour and rather depressing. We are supposed to empathize with Liv Ullman's character, and she was justified in many of her feelings but she seems stunted by her bad childhood unable to realize that at some point you have to accept people as they are and get on with the business of living. Though it seems possible at the conclusion that might be the path she is ready to attempt.

  2. Hi Joel
    I saw the dubbed version of this when it came out (mercifully, with Berman & Ullmann dubbing themselves)and only had the opportunity to see the Swedish language version when I was gifted with the DVD.
    I haven't seen many early Ingrid Bergman films, but revisiting this got me to watch "A Woman's Face" (1938) and "Fear" (1954) and now I'm hungry for more.
    This is indeed a very heavy film and you're right about Bergman being so terrific in playing such an (ostensibly) unsympathetic character. I think the film is really mature in that it does present Ullmann as the character we most easily identify with, but it subtly shows her to be flawed in her unfair attributing all of her life's woes (and worse, her sister's illness) on her mother. I like that the film doesn't make either character completely wrong or completely right.
    I never saw Ingmar Bergman as being a completely bleak filmmaker, but as a realist I think he ends the film on a note of potential change (Eva is a caring person, if she could only let goof the past; Charlotte is limited, but as revealed with her relationship with her agent, not wholly without sensitivities), but not guaranteed change.

    Give that Bergman was appearing in things like "A Matter of Time," it IS very fortunate that she was given this role and delivered the goods so spectacularly in a swan song that was anything but humiliating. She came in on top and left the same way. As you point out, So few of her peers could say the same.

    Funny you should mention "Wild Strawberries"- that was my introduction to Bergman. It proved to me that, inspite of his reputation and arthouse prestige, his films are a lot more accessible than cinephiles would like to let on.
    Thanks for weighing in on this film. Should you ever have the opportunity (by way of DVD or the Criterion Collection streaming service) I recommend the 3 hour documentary about the making of "Autumn Sonata" - the most fascinating look into the craft and artistry of filmmaking I've ever seen.
    Thanks, Joel!

    1. "Wild Strawberries" was my introduction to Bergman too. And I agree that his reputation makes him sound like a difficult, highbrow artist. He is in fact, a remarkably clear, sharp and easily-understood artist. He doesn't obscure things; he does the opposite.

      He uses literary techniques like symbolism, flashbacks, dreams and juxtapositions, but the purposes are always breathtakingly, dazzlingly clear. This film, for example, sounds like it would be a tedious, claustrophobic slog. To the contrary. It's mesmerizing and visually rich.

    2. For some reason, perhaps because it's not as dark as some of his other films, "Wild Strawberries" somehow seems like a perfect into to Bergman film.
      And you convey very concisely exactly what I feel about him as an artist of emotionally accessible films. Very well stated points, especially as to what "Autumn Sonata" could have been in less talented hands. Thanks for commenting!

  3. Ken, what I'm loving about your recent film treatments is the richness of context you're wrapping them in. It makes for an extended and very compelling read...just when I thought it would be a challenge to continue such a high content standard, you seem to have raised your own benchmark.

    Bergman is difficult. He forces us to forget movies as we know them. He asks us to explore an existentialist psyche in a way that Hollywood dances around. We're bothered when we realize it's not quite as remotely "Scandinavian" as we'd prefer to experience it.

    I've loathed and loved Liv Ullmann in a brotherly way across the decades of my life. Perhaps she keeps me honest. Or dysfunctional. I've yet to work it out...maybe it was just Bergman doing a number on my head all along.

    Rick ~ The Aberrant Homosexualist

    1. Hi Rick
      Wow..what a sincere and humbling compliment. Thank you!
      Your delineation of Bergman and his films is pretty spot-on in that I don't think his films are as impenetrable as their reputation, but I do think they are "difficult" in that they are not particularly concerned with entertaining you or comforting you.
      Ullmann once stated in an interview that Bergman's philosophy was that you should leave one of his films knowing something more - no mater how small- about life and the human condition than you did when you entered.
      On that, I wholly agree.
      I agree, too, that his work does ask us to explore the psyche. Not always is the most cool or removed ways.

      I would love to hear what you've loathed about Liv Ullmann sometime. Even in dreck like "40 Carats" and "Lost Horizon" (dreck I love, I might add) she has always been so intriguing to me.
      Great to hear from you, Rick. And I recommend to readers to check out this guy's blog!

    2. Hi again Ken,

      I've never seen Liv Ullmann in any of her Anglo-American roles - just the Bergman epics. I don't loathe her as an actress at all: to me she has the power to disturb. And isn't that why we love/hate people if we're attempting to be honest with ourselves? (I'm sure Bergman would just snatch that as self-validation hehe)

      Ullmann's body of work necessarily includes her autobiography, "Changing". It's as excellent as any performance she's ever given, and notably goes to many of the themes of "Autumn Sonata". (As a sidebar, I most like to evaluate an artist's body of work when it includes their autobiographical input. At worst, high camp doesn't become less so when its creator addresses the subject!)

      Thank you for the kind words, and as always for your what you give us here.

  4. Hi Ken - this was the very first foreign language film I ever saw...and the first time I saw Ingrid Bergman in a film, too. I remember how palpable the tension was between the characters of the mother and daughter; you didn't even need the subtitles, for the story was so meticulously told by Ingmar Bergman and cast. My favorite of all Ingmar Bergman films is Persona, with Bibi Andersson and Ullman...there is a similar tension-between-two-women feel to that one. Need to see this one again...

    You beautifully noted the changing, evolving and growing mother-daughter relationship of Debbie and Carrie here too...if only Lana and Cheryl, Joan and Christina, Ingrid and Isabella, and most recently Sachi and Shirley could have the same breakthrough and boding that Reynolds and Fisher enjoyed...

    I agree totally with Rick, I love the personal context you are bringing to every movie essay...our unique lives do shape the movies we love and why, and reflexively, the movies we love shape our perspective of the world! Bravo, Ken!!

    1. Hi Chris
      What a marvelous introduction to both foreign films AND Ingrid Bergman! The tension between mother and daughter is the single most memorable thing I took away from the film the first time i saw it. It's so effectively evoked it's almost cringe-inducing to watch.
      In a lot of way, I think capturing that tension of emotions was one of Bergman's strong suits (I've only seen "persona" once, that's the film I want to revisit soon).
      In citing the whole mother/daughter dynamic in Hollywood families, I'd forgotten about Shirley MacLaine. It's so prevalent. A friend of mine attended school with Carol Burnett's daughter and recalled she was the epitome of a youngster "left to her own devices." Like Carrie & Debbie, Carrie hamilton & Carol eventually found some resolution before her death.

      I thank you (and everyone who contributes to this section of the post) for adding to the feeling I have that movies ARE a part of our lives in ways that extend beyond the borders of the screen. The richest film experiences are those which seem to blend seamlessly with our personal lives and our culture.
      Always great hearing form you Chris! Thank you very much for your kind compliments!

    2. OMG I was appalled at Shirley MacLaine in Sachi's book. Once again kudos on an excellent post, I so enjoy reading you and look forward to each new essay. I don't think I got thru this one primarily due to Liv's sad sack make-over (those braids - a hair don't, and those glasses). Sighs and Whispers was a biggie when I was in high school and she was so beautiful in that. The thing I do remember is seeing a documentary on Ingrid and Liv mentioning the scene where they are lying down and how she wasn't aware of how painful it was for Ingrid to raise her arms after having had a mastectomy. Funny what sticks with you.

    3. Hi LouLou
      I haven't read Sachi's book, but just from TV interviews it sounds like MacLaine was not only a "gone mom" but more than a little eccentric. I'm not ever quite sure what people are at by having children when they have are busy, professionally ambitious, and have lives in which children are bound to be a hinderance. It seems so unfair.

      It's funny your labeling Ullmann's look in the film "sad sacK because in one of the many subtitle translations, Bergman's reference to her daughter as a "crybaby" is translated as "sad sack."
      That sequence you mention, of Ullmann referencing what a trouper Berman was when Ingmar had her lying on the floor in positions difficult for having recently had an operation, appears in the 3 hour "making of" documentary that comes with the Criterion DVD.
      I too think Bergman looks perhaps loveliest in "Cries & Whispers" and indeed I remember it being a much discussed arthouse favorite when I was in high school, too. I only saw it many years later.
      Thank you for reading my post and for extending such a nice compliment regarding my blog!

  5. It has been awhile since I saw this film and so my memory is fuzzy but I do remember the conversation between mother and daughter being relentless and uncomfortable. But two scenes do stick out in my memory. One is the interaction between Charlotte and her disabled daughter. Bergman kind of springs that on us, I think, to give us more palpable evidence of Charlotte's self absorption. Also, there is a moment when Eva plays the piano for her mother and Charlotte ever so slightly flinches when she makes a mistake. Charlotte herself plays flawlessly and the picture and commentary you provide nicely detail the underlying message. Whatever choice you make in your life will automatically require a sacrifice of something else. I see that played out in my own life time and again.

    1. Hi Ron
      Your memory of those two scenes is pretty keen. Both really highlight what an extraordinary performance Ingrid Bergman gives. In the sequence with her disabled daughter, you can really see her struggling with trying to put on a good face while attempting to mask her pity, revulsion, and guilt. And you're right about the slight wince she gives while listening to her daughter with an ever-so-pained expression of interest and acceptance on her face.
      Ingmar was so wise to shoot the daughter's piano solo strictly with a medium shot of Charlotte. her face speaks volumes about both her level of self-absorbtion and her condescending dismissal of her daughter's meager "gift" as a pianist.
      If you have to have a fuzzy memory of a film you haven't seen in a while, you really couldn't have recalled two more consummate scenes.

  6. Hi, Ken!

    I have a lot of things to say about this movie but I don't want it to be too long, so I'll try to be straightforward and keep it short!

    It's funny to see you review this movie now cause: a) I'm re-reading Liv's "Changing" (I bought this book when I was 14. I didn't know who she was, I didn't watch movies [just some 80s buddy movies] and I didn't know what the book was about - I was intrigued by her face on the cover. That book led me to a journey of self-discovery that changed my life, inspired me to write and made me see life and art from a totallly new perspective); and b) I'm living my "Summer Sonata" so to speak (is summer in Brazil) cause even though I've always had a fine relationship with my father we were never close, so I'm trying to get closer and it's not that easy by any means;

    I know Bergman for his subtlety and enigmatic approach but here he unapologetically exposes everything, and even though the dialogue seems too didactic sometimes (they are SO self-aware, mostly Eva) the cast can pull it off naturally. Liv and Ingrid give their all in these performances so much so that it gets uncomfortable at times.

    I loved that you quoted "Nocturnal Animals", and I'd like to also quote Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life", when Jack says to his father "Always your restlessness inside of me". It's really true and I think that we can see the same questions around both women, making them more alike than they would've admitted. Eva tried so bad to distance herself from her mother, but When Charlotte lays down on the floor, putting herself in the daughter's place, vulnerable and asking for love and comprehension, Eva was so absorbed in her own pain that she couldn't even care about her mother misery.

    I think it's sometimes hard to watch this movie because there's just so much truth in it. Parent-child relationships are not easy, and even wit the best relations there's this undenable gap between them, filled with hurt and disappointment and expectations. I liked that you talked about how these actresses and the director must've felt with this movie and I think that's very brave of them to take these roles. Jill Clayburgh (who wasn't even a mother in 1979)played a dysfunctional mother in "La Luna" (wich I like a lot but I know it's far from perfect) and said that role scared her terribly and probably influenced her decision to work less after her first child was born.
    These relationships of parent-child are fascinating and sad cause in the end we are always running after each other, even if unconsciously. That's a love and a need you can't just shake off and the scars are never erased. We need them and they need us even if it's just to blame hahahaha
    (God, this is already GIGANTIC)

    1. Hello Joao Paulo
      Your understanding and appreciation of this film (and indeed, Bergman) is quite astute given that you say you didn't really watch many movies in your youth.
      Ullman's book is quite wonderful isn't it? I read it at a seminal time in my life (when i first moved away from home) and like you, I gleaned quite a bit from it that I could apply to living in a more authentic way.
      Your experience with boding with you father must inform your impression of Autumn Sonata a great deal. At least that's what appears to be the case with your thoughtful observations.
      One of your best is what you say about the language. There's something about Bergman's words that can indeed come off as too self-aware for the characters, but somehow the performances and the emotional truth they convey mitigate things quite a bit.
      I saw La Luna the day it came out and oddly enough, have never seen it again. I should revisit it and see if old age has changed my initial antipathy towards it.

      There's something about truth in art that makes even painful feeling worthy (if not necessarily easy) to confront. You express an awareness of the complexity of parent-child relationships, and i agree that in many ways we are always running after one another. Love is imperfect, but time has a way of smoothing away edges. Our parents become softer and more human as we age, and forgiveness and intimacy is often easier when they reach an age where the possibly for change in them is so remote, we accept them as they are-warts and all.

      Your comment post is not as long as many of my responses, and I always find it pleasing reading how you seek such an emotional connection with the films you watch. Perhaps because it is so similar to my own.
      I probably mentioned this in an earlier comment, but one of my favorite Liv Ullman comments is that she feels one should exit a movie with a better understanding of life than when they went in.
      Thanks, Joao Paulo. A fascinating, thoughtful comment, one not at all too lengthy to my way of thinking.

    2. Hi, Ken!! :)

      I'm amazed that another person also had this catarctic experience with Liv's book. I have one particular quote from that book written in fire in my heart, when she asks herself about the choices she never did, the choices she let other people do for her (because she loved them or she wanted to please or she was afraid), the choices she simply didn't do. That's because of this quote I was able to leave home for the first time and begin the search for myself. When she came to Brazil I was just a teenager but I wanted so bad to go see her and say how much she helped me!

      I love La Luna, the acting is fascinating (I might be a little biased here) and the cinematography is hipnotic, that alone can make me watch it with watery eyes. But in my opinion the movie lacks direction, and it seems that Bertolucci built everything around the infamous incest scene and didn't really know what to do before or after that. Also, it doesn't help that the characters are meant to be freudian-archetypes, "The Mother", "The Son", "The Father", and it takes it's tool on their development. Still, I love it and it seems it has found it's public (here in my country a lot of psychology schools are very enthusiastic about it).

      I couldn't agree more when you say "Our parents become softer and more human as we age". It's amazing that despite being almost 40 years old and after all those last social changes, Autumn Sonata still rings all the bells and brings so much truth to the table. I think what Bergman was one of the few directors who could consistently and masterfully capture pieces of human nature with such authencity.

      Thank you for your kind words. You're so generous for sharing your knowledge and thoughtful impressions with us -- and paying attention to our responses. I get so happy to discuss some movies that I'm afraid I can deviate from the subject so thanks for allowing me to feel comfortable. It's really nice to talk about these movies and end up learning a few more things about life! :) Have a great week!

    3. Hi Joao Paulo
      That's really marvelous that Ullman's book inspired you to take the risk of leaving home and embark on a life of your own.
      As you know, that's the magic of the arts, and why, specifically, it never matters if others see the same things in the films, books, or music we love...because it is a personal language.
      Even your love of La Luna tells me more about you than it does the film itself, but sometimes when people share what a film has meant to them, we may not always change our feelings about a film, but it can lead to an opportunity to see things in it through another person's eyes.
      You seem to already know what it took most of my film school days to discover; that watching a film is a personal experience that several sets of eyes can see in many different ways.
      I think when movies deal with emotional truths (like Autumn Sonata) it never matters if they were made in the 1030s of 1970s, they are never dated because what they address and speak of changes as we age.
      I agree with you that this was Bergman's unique and special gift and understanding of cinema.

      I enjoy talking (writing) about movies too, and because movies are about life, it is very easy to feel that the topic strays. But the truth is, it doesn't. I am bored when on speaking of movie trivia and behind the scenes factoids. It is always so much more interesting when people share what the experience of a particular film was for them. The former is reference material, the latter is people sharing of themselves. No contest.
      Thank you for your always interesting and enthusiastic contributions here! Have a good one!

    4. Good morning, Ken! Sorry for the late response.

      "(...) Watching a film is a personal experience that several sets of eyes can see in many different ways" Oh, I SO agree with this. It really upsets me that we are in an age where some "fruit-named-critic-aggregator" has the power to give the final word and say if a movie is worth our time or not. Also, it was pretty sad to see the firece battle this Oscar season where two groups of people would go on and on trying to convince one another their movie was "the better".
      I think the movie-watching experience has been changing a lot in the last few years and pretty sure this will affect the quality of movies in the coming years.

      Speaking of "dated movies", what feels special about "Autumn Sonata" is that Bergman (Ingmar) made this movie with a timeless approach, we see only two women, emotion against emotion, this could've happened in the 40's, the 70's or today, since there's not a strong indication of the surroundings: it's just about feelings, and those feelings are universal. That however is not the case with most 70s movies, since 70 directors were so in love with their time that they tried to capture every social phenomenon and every little feature of that decade, which ends up giving us realistic portraits of human richness. Still it's really rare when I recommend a 70s movie and people don't complain about clothes or music or hairs, and even though that perception of "ah, that and old movie" is supposed to take place it really seems to prevent people from seeing the raw emotional study these movies often display. Again, movie-watching experience seems to be changing fast.

      Oh my gosh it seems I'm really pessimistic (with a grain of bitterness)hahahahaha but I'm not, really. Just to be clear I don't think we'll soon end like the ending of "Fahrenheit 451", hiding among trees reciting old movies quotes hahahahahaha. It's just that movies became something else nowadays (I'm not complaining, I oftenly enjoy a good superhero movie) and I'm trying to adjust myself to it. the problem is that movies I love are almost being forgotten outside academic circles when they should be treasured, when they have alot to offer to the younger generations, and it really makes me sad for some reason.
      Still there are a lot of movie lovers out there who keep passing on the legacy of so many great movies and directors and writers and actors. I'm glad we have the internet to connect people and share (as you said) the best thing abut movies: our personal reactions and perceptions about that material. Thank you for your blog and for giving us to the chance to enjoy the movie experience to it's fullest: by opening ourselves to the story and allowing us to feel each others feelings and expanding the movie's effect inside us :)

      Have a good week, Ken! Seeya!

  7. Ken, that was a very deeply felt and poignant evocation of the diificult relationship between some working mothers and their deprived daughters. I've seen this film a few times and I find the acting amazing.

    At times the struggle to be understood and loved by the other is very painful to see. I'm always devasted after each viewing, even though it is rewarding too. Few directors have attempted such honest confrontations between parents and children. Often what is expected is that people should move on and "get over" things and not to dwell on the past like Eva does in the film. It's a mixture of dread and wonder to see civilized people actually blaming others for their shortcomings.

    Charlotte is very self centered and Eva is resentful and passive aggressive. It's heart wrenching to watch but it's worth it. It is a very strong film that many can relate to. It's also a very vivid film. I usually forget that there are all the flashbacks to Eva's childhood. It makes the film more visual and cinematic and beautiful to watch. I haven't seen the film for a while but what I remember is that at the ending Charlotte's life seems to go on as before, as if stay with Eva never happened, and that Eva's future prospects are even bleaker. Is that how you percieve the end?

    It's always nice to read about your remarkable mother who seemed to have so much character and strength.

    1. Hello Wille
      Much of what you speak of is exactly what I like about this film. The Lifetime network here in the US overflows with mother/daughter dramas. All of them superficial and sentimental. Although AUTUMN SONATA is painfully raw, it's a more genuine depiction of the sometime challengingly difficult relationships parents have with their children and vice versa.
      Your memory of the ending of the film is accurate.
      My perception is that Charlotte does indeed go on as before, her "triumph" being in that she is a survivor, lives in the present, and is strong. Her "failure" being that she has actually been forced to confront herself and has chosen to flee...meaning that she is also weak.
      The same holds true for Eva: Her failure is an inability to free herself from the past, and the bitterness that has resulted in. Her triumph is that, being able to care for her sister, love her son, and seek struggle with the intimacy her husband offers...she has the hope of never being as emotionally cut off as her mother.
      That's what I think is beautiful about the film. It doesn't offer a pat solution to so complex an issue, it seems to offer the good/bad hope/despair reality that is life.
      And that is very kind of you to mention my mom. I was very blessed to have come to a place of closure and happiness with both of my parents before they passed on. I'd wish that for everyone. The finality of death makes carrying around old, unresolved issues an untenable life option.
      Wonderful insights, Wille. Nice to see you back among us!

  8. Hi Ken, this is now added to my ever growing list of movies you've written about that I am now tracking down to watch (I'm still mulling over The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.) After reading your description of this story I find myself thinking about all the ways that adult daughters and their mothers have to reckon not only with the past, but also with who they are now. And how sometimes the life choices of adult daughters are direct and pointed reactions to their mothers way of raising them (I am guilty of this.)

    I am curious if you have yet seen Everything Everywhere All at Once? I'd love to hear your thoughts not only on the technical aspects of that film, but also your feelings about the story and how it maybe parallels themes in Autumn Sonata. I have to admit, EEAaO broke me the first time I saw it, I almost had to leave the theater because I was crying so hard towards the end.

    Its a tiny miracle to encounter a work of art that manages to feel like someone saw your life and created something to see yourself in and help you make sense of your own feelings.

    Keep up the wonderful writing!

    1. Hello, Shea- What a lovely and complimentary comment, thank you. Although I have heard lots of good about it, I have not yet seen "Everything Everywhere All at Once" (I always get to contemporary films far after their release dates, I'm afraid). I know little about it, but if familial relationships play into the narrative, you've made the film even more appealing to me. Certainly in the way you describe your heartfelt response to the film lies something I have always loved about the movie-going experience; seeing some aspect of your life rendered in ways more poetic or illuminating.
      I love a movie that gives me a good cry!

      The thoughts you expressed early in your comment ( sometimes the life choices of adult daughters are direct and pointed reactions to their mothers way of raising them) is a core theme of Autumn Sonata, and food for thought in any parent-child relationship.
      In talking to my sisters, we question what is the ideal situation: we arrived at a semantic standoff be "Influenced" by our parents feels proactive, to live a life whose choices are a "response" or "reaction" feels like what I suppose it is, reactive.
      I hope you do take a look at AUTUMN SONATA, and I hope it proves as thought-provoking to you as it was for me.
      I so appreciate your visiting my blog (more than once, yet!) and thank you for contributing such a personal, thoughtful comment.