The Siren has written another essay for the Criterion Collection, this one to be included in the booklet for the new Blu-Ray release of Ingmar Bergman's Autumn Sonata. This was one of the first times the Siren has written in any depth about the great Ingrid Bergman; and aside from a brief tribute upon his death, the Siren had never tackled writing about Ingmar Bergman at all.
The film concerns Charlotte, a concert pianist (Ingrid Bergman) who visits her adult daughter Eva (an exceptional Liv Ullmann) without realizing that Eva still carries years of pent-up resentment for the way she was shunted aside as a child. What follows is an excerpt from the essay. You can read the whole thing at the Criterion site. Better still, get the Blu-Ray. It's an extraordinary film that shows how the feelings of two women in a single house can be as vividly cinematic as an army roaming a vast battlefield location.
For Autumn Sonata, Bergman built his screenplay around exposition. Each revelation about Charlotte comes like another page of the indictment. She wasn’t just absent on tour for much of Eva’s childhood, leaving the girl to keep vigil with her father (Erland Josephson); Charlotte had an affair that resulted in her leaving both husband and children for eight months (the child Eva, shown in flashback, is played by Linn Bergman). She didn’t just leave Eva and her son-in-law alone; Charlotte didn’t show up for Eva’s pregnancy or her one grandchild’s birth (“I was recording all the Mozart sonatas. I hadn’t one day free,” she reminds Viktor). Evidently, Charlotte never came even after Erik died, although no one bothers to throw that at her. There’s so much else to choose from, like putting Helena in a home and never visiting.
The amount of harm that Charlotte has inflicted over one not-terribly-long lifetime could fill a miniseries. Indeed, this sort of story line recurs in classic Hollywood melodrama, where a selfish mother is the worst kind of villainess, like the parasitic Gladys Cooper in Now, Voyager, nagging Bette Davis into a wreck who winds up physically resembling Ullmann in Autumn Sonata, right down to the wire-rim glasses. Watch Autumn Sonata and other movie mothers may start to drift through your mind: Mary Astor, the pianist in The Great Lie, leaving her baby behind with Davis, then embarking on a world tour because (no other reason is plausibly suggested) she’s a heartless bitch; Davis—now the bad mom—in Mr. Skeffington, abandoning her lovelorn husband and daughter so she can pursue flirtations, lunches, and shopping; Lana Turner lighting up more for her show business pals than she does for her daughter in Imitation of Life (which Charlotte’s phone call to her agent echoes).