They say that parents don’t understand their children. Take Tomasz, my father. Every time I’m home, he spoils me with sitcom evenings and adrenalin-free beer nights. I comply, and we end up spending our time blinking at the bright TV screen, laughing at cheap jokes, speaking in Polish slang, and forgetting all about grammar. However, if I should dare to refuse, my dad bites his index finger as if to say, “Beware Aga, you’re starting to annoy the hell out of me.” Yet, oddly enough and defying all logic, things end up in the same place no matter which choice I make…and that’s in a fight. And, once everything is said and done, we’ll eat ice cream. Together. In total silence.
“One must learn how to live. I practice every day,” says Eva (Liv Ullman), one of the main characters in the 1978 film Autumn Sonata, directed by Ingmar Bergman. Eva has a point. We need to practice living, nay, coexisting, especially with our parents. I don’t need to tell you that this is easier said than done, especially if you have a mother like Charlotte (Ingrid Bergman). From the moment of her appearance in the movie, she is an intense presence, so powerful it seems to fill up space itself. Charlotte is a famous pianist (a profession that requires fire), very attractive and incredibly self-centered. As the viewer, we can see it reflected in her sway, as she strolls around the house in red dresses and exaggerated gestures.
The tangible tension between mother and daughter grows throughout the film. The culmination of this silent conflict reaches its peak one night as the conversation is sparked off:
– Eva, you do like me, don’t you?
– You are my mother.
– That’s one way of answering.
The talk between Charlotte and Eva reveals all their hidden outrages and regrets. “To you I was a doll you played with when you had time,” exclaims an exasperated Eva, and we feel her pain. We are exposed to the family’s raw past, the daughter’s crippling insecurities, the mother’s unfulfilled dreams. Slowly, the audience watches the gap between Eva and Charlotte shrink smaller and smaller. A collective hope flits before our faces, the quintessential “everything will change, and this time, things will be different.”. But Bergman fools us until the very end; we see that there are no definite changes, no breakthroughs, just a release of emotion by women who are so tired they can’t bring themselves to adjust. Despite deep conversations, shifts in the balance of power, and placing blame on each other, Charlotte and Eva, come full circle back to the same positions they started in.
Ingmar Bergman manages to show one more thing in Autumn Sonata: the difference between men and women’s relationships. Family or not, women talk. Men prefer physical action. Bergman is a genius, as he was able to create a film based entirely on words, yet still comprising physical action that does anything but bore its viewers. Autumn Sonata is, indeed, a perfectly balanced family saga.
People say that parents don’t understand their children. “Is my grief your secret pleasure?” I asked my dad that very question recently, quoting Eva, and he rolled his eyes. He passed me the remote control and went to the store to get our favorite ice cream. And then we ate it. Together. In total silence.
You will enjoy this movie if:
- a) you’re not a psychopath. Basing on research psychopaths need extreme experiences in order to feel excitement. If so, I don’t think nearly 90-minute mother- daughter dialogue will get you there.
- b) you socialize in a specific way. Whenever around your close friends, at some point you start talking about your childhoods and the way they differed from one another. Note: doesn’t matter if you generally idealize or criticize this period of time.
- c) you love family sagas.
Title: Autumn Sonata (Höstsonaten)
Directed by: Ingmar Bergman
Written by: Ingmar Bergman