The Film (5/5)
It took until 1978's Autumn Sonata for cinema's 2 greatest Bergman's to come together on a project. The film directed by the legendary Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman, and co-starring Casablanca/Notorious actress Ingrid Bergman. The film would come at the twilight of both of their careers, for actress Ingrid, Autumn Sonata would be the second to last film she would make before her 1982 death. For director Ingmar, this would be the second to last theatrical film he would direct, his final film that would go into theaters would come 3 years later and would be an edited version of his TV Mini-series Fanny and Alexander. One other film of his would receive a minor stateside theatrical release, Saraband (the follow up to his Scenes from a Marriage) in 2003, but like Fanny and Alexander that would start life as a TV film.
Autumn Sonata is not a unique film for director Bergman, in many ways it harkens back to his earlier work such as the Silence of God trilogy of chamber dramas of the early 1960's. Autumn Sonata like those 3 films (Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Light, and the Silence) share a small cast, limited locations, and a tightly focused plot with the maximum amount of drama squeezed out of it.
Autumn Sonata takes place over the course of one day and one night in the parish house of Eva (Liv Ullmann) and her minister husband Viktor. Before the film opens Eva's Mother Charlotte (Ingrid Bergman), a world renowned concert pianist experienced the death of her husband Leonardo. Charlotte, in an attempt to recover from this tragedy accepts Eva's offer to stay with her for an undisclosed amount of time. Also, staying in the house, unknown to Charlotte is her other daughter Helena who has an unnamed illness which has caused her to suffer from extreme paralysis. The trip which was supposed to be a way for Charlotte to mourn her loss, recover, and reconnect with her daughter after many years apart turns into a dramatic intervention as the two dig deep and discover their true feelings for one another.
Many filmmakers tend to lose their way as they reach the end of their careers. Ingmar Bergman never seemed to have that issue, as many of his finest films seemed to occur at the very end of his theatrical career. Autumn Sonata could be viewed in pretty much every way as a cinematic masterpiece from the screen dominating performances from Bergman regular Liv Ullmann and Hollywood legend Ingrid Bergman. These 2 screen presences, who spend most of the film together create such a powerful dynamic that it almost feels that the film could have been shot in a broom closet, and the effect would have been much the same.
That being said the direction from Bergman which offers a tense atmosphere, with tiny shreds of nostalgia thrown raises the bar on the performances. This coupled with the cinematography of frequent Bergman collaborator Sven Nykvist who much in keeping with the films title shoots the film with a very beautiful autumnal color scheme helps bring a beautiful eternally endearing quality to the images. It's not often I can qualify a film as a near perfect piece of cinema, but watching Bergman's Autumn Sonata is as close an experience as I can recall viewing recently.
Criterion brings Autumn Sonata to Blu-ray with a spectacular 1:66:1 1080p AVC encoded MPEG-4 transfer. This transfer brings the beautiful autumnal color scheme I mentioned in the previous section to glorious HD. The colors look splendid, and life like. The level of detail in the transfer is fantastic most notably in close ups shots. The black levels are solid and deep, and the grain structure on this disc is simply gorgeous. I did not detect any instances of print damage on the transfer.
Criterion on the audio front offers an LPCM Mono track in Swedish with Optional English subtitles. The dialogue comes through nice and clearly, as does the films score, and the music played intermittently by the characters. I did not detect any instances of pops, cracks, or hissing on the track. There is also an dubbed English track included on the disc.
Criterion has ported over the extras from it's prior editions, and added a few new goodies to create a truly wonderful package for Ingmar Bergman's Autumn Sonata on Blu-ray. The disc features a 2003 introduction to the film by Bergman himself. We also get a commentary by Bergman expert Peter Cowie. The main extra on the disc is the vast making of Autumn Sonata which at 3.5 hours long is actually 2 1/3 longer than the actual film itself. There is an interview with Liv Ullmann, and a 1981 conversation between Ingrid Bergman and film critic John Russell Taylor. There is also a booklet of liner notes included.
Autumn Sonata is another of Ingmar Bergman's many masterpieces brought to Blu-ray from those wonderful folks at the Criterion Collection. The A/V restoration looks STUNNING, and the sheer volume of the extras make this a must purchase. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.