Ingmar Bergman’s Oscar-winning Autumn Sonata succeeds on two fronts. At first, it operates as a chamber drama two-hander, with a mother (Ingrid Bergman) and daughter (Liv Ullmann) cracking open deep emotional faultlines and unearthing toxic secrets. The subject matter – neglectful parent, unwanted abortions – is familiar but vital, thanks in large part to the superlative performances of Bergman and Ullmann alike. Their raw honesty creates an unflinching, intimidating intensity.
As Ullmann unleashes her perspective on her miserable childhood – misery that her mother was either unaware of or consciously ignored – she asserts: “There is only one truth and one lie.” Yet the genius of Autumn Sonata is how comprehensively it rejects this duality. As Bergman prises open this relationship to reveal its shattered bedrock, so too does he examine our warped, solipsistic understandings of reality. He achieves this by continually emphasising the artifice inherent in personal perception. The intimacy of close-ups is balanced with the rigidity of medium shots and, most importantly, the way flashbacks are presented with an exaggerated theatricality that emphasises the subjective construction of memories. This is suggested by the choice to have Ullmann’s character’s husband introduce the film, underlining the director’s (male) ownership of the narrative. A masterpiece.