Two of the 20th Century’s best actresses team up – or square off, to be more precise – in Ingmar Bergman’s Autumn Sonata from 1978. This simple, austere production peels away every layer of a tortured mother/daughter relationship, revealing decades of toxic damage deep within. The film presents an uncomfortably frank appraisal of one family’s stark dysfunction, and the bonds of codependency that ensure a continuing spiral of guilt. And after the wreckage is thoroughly surveyed and assessed, most viewers will recognize scattered bits of their own lives amid the emotional debris.
Here we meet Eva (Liv Ullmann), a mousey preacher’s wife in the rural south of Norway. She spends her quiet days performing musical selections for her husband’s church and dusting the tidy parsonage they call home. One morning Eva composes a letter to her mother Charlotte, a globetrotting concert pianist, inviting her for a visit. Eva’s husband Viktor (Halvar Bjork) dutifully posts the letter with palpable trepidation, and it’s our first hint that all is not blissfully calm under the fading glow of Norway’s September sun.