Saturday, September 18, 2010

Ingrid Bergman in Autumn Sonata

Ingrid Bergman received her last Oscar nomination (and in my mind her last award) for playing Charlotte, a concert pianist in Ingmar Bergman's drama Autumn Sonatata. I am quite sure that had she not won that supporting Oscar four years earlier, she would have won for Autumn Sonata, despite the fact that her performance was in Swedish. I believe that she received many votes from the older and/or conservative members of the Academy over Jane Fonda. Nevertheless this was her last motion picture (not counting a Tv movie), because at the time she was suffering from cancer.

Autumn Sonata is one of the greatest movies ever, which brilliantly observes and shows the complex and stormy relationship between a mother and her daughter. It's a 100% intense experience, which is far from being easy or pleasant to witness as we get to know such depths of the human mind that we can only see in a Bergman movie. Just like in Interiors, the characters are unlikeable and selfish, however Bergman was able to present them with much more reality. The actors are all terrific, including Liv Ullmann, who was ROBBED of a nomination for her performance. The dialogues, the directing, everything is pitch-perfect.

However, Ingrid Bergman is beyond perfect. You can easily say that I'm very biased, because she's one of my favorite actresses ever and I would not deny it, but I would also expect other people NOT to deny Ingrid Bergman's brilliance in this movie. And you must understand that I don't love this performance because Ingrid is one of my favorite actresses. She's one of my favorite actresses because of this performance. If you expect to see something like Casablanca or Gaslight from her, turn off your TV right away. It's not about teary eyes anymore. You don't get to see an actress acting, you'll witness the torture and misery of a woman.

Ingrid Bergman had already been ill, when the shooting of this movie started. It's known that she remained dignified and brave in her illness, which caused her death, but somehow you get the feeling that she acted as if this was her last chance to show herself to the world. She pushed the bounderies and burdens of acting, as we can clearly see: acting and life cannot be separated in Autumn Sonata. She put every strength, ability and skill she possessed into this one last movie of hers. She's not a technical actress like, say, Meryl Streep. She's the prototype of an actress totally relying on emotions and this type of performing totally suited Ingmar Bergman's screenplay (or filmography as a whole). She shows her feelings by little looks or shows her pain with her hands, fingers, eyebrows.

She plays a theatrical, over-the-top woman (which is NOT true about her performance!), who's life is just pure acting and pretending. The first time she appears, she's getting out of her car, having pain in her back. Charlotte has many regrets, dreams and desires, however throughout the years she's become bitter and pretentious. In the beginning she has little clashes with her daughter, short arguments and that's it. It's simply mindblowing to see her face in the scene where Eva tries to impress her by playing the piano, the musical instrument that means Charlotte's life. She becomes teary, we can see that she's proud of her daughter, but we can also observe that she's a bit scared that she may not be the best and we can also experience that she does not only feel pride and love towards her daughter. Eventually, she plays the same prelude: she straightens up, almost closes her eyes and we immediately see a genious working, producing ART.

Before this scene, she talks about how much her longtime companion suffered from a long fatal illness. It must have been tough for her to talk about things, which were so current in her life, but she never lets us feel her own pain, only the characters despite the fact that she lived Charlotte's character, she BECAME Charlotte.

In a mindblowing scene (which Liv Ullmann's character is listening to in the background) Charlotte talks about Eva to her son-in-law, who tells her nearly all of Eva's secrets. Bergman brilliantly portrayed the two-faced nature of the character: she pretends to be concerned about her daughter, and by this we cannot be certain if she's really interested.

The whole movie gets more intense after a shocking dream scene (she does it brilliantly) where Charlotte wakes up screaming. Her daughter meets her downstairs and as they are alone, they cannot avoid the confrontation and the arguing about the past. Eva can only blame her mother, who's not defending herself (and does not even want to in the end). It's so natural and real when she whispers while she's crying: "Eva, you hate me." All the bitterness and desparation of this woman is revealed mercilessly and she breaks down under this heavy burden. In the end she begs for the forgiveness of her daughter, who cruelly rejects it. Charlotte says that she'll change, but she does not believe it herself. And we also know that their relationship cannot be saved.

This long fight full of emotions reaches its highlight when Bergman lies down on the floor, opening up to her daughter about her feeling. Her performance reaches the biggest depth an actor can ever achieve. The way she says "I don't remeber" is simply so utterly heartbreaking, but in a very strange way. You don't cry or anything, desparation fills your soul. Along with Bergman we reach a level of catharsis which can rarely be experienced.

Charlotte tries to escape, but we know that she's hopeless. There's only one thing that can give a meaning to her life: music. Ironic though, that this movie is not about music or its power, it's just a brilliantly edged relationship drama. At the very end of her movie we can see her face for only a few seconds. In this minimal time, she shows more truth than most of the actors can through their entire careers.

This is, and now I'm not overly enthusiastic, the best and most true performance I have ever seen from an actor, male or female. With this re-watch I've become certain. I have seen it three times, but she always gives me something else. She does not only haunt you for days, she remains with you for the rest of your life. I wish Bergman had the opportunity to say farewell to her film career with a last, glorious Oscar win for this once-in-a-lifetime performance.
I keep the formality of rating, but this performance doesn't need it.

Comments anyone?


Fritz said...

Well, you obviously love her! :-)

I gave her 4,5. I think she was fantastic but somehow I wasn't as blown away as I expected to be. And to be honest, for me, Liv Ullman stole the show.

Louis Morgan said...

As I expected. She will definitely win, and it sounds like you will have a new number 1 for your overall ranking.

joe burns said...

Fantastic review! She will win easily.

Can you do Page after Burstyn?

dinasztie said...

Joe: Thanks. I can review Page instead of Burstyn if you want to.

joe burns said...

Yes, I was going to ask you too, but then I remembered about Burstyn.

Saira said...

Liv ulman gave a mindblowing performance...I dont think I have ever seen a better performance EVER and its a shame she didnt win the oscar for it....she definatly stole the show...ingrid was no where as near as impressive

Anonymous said...

I agree with dinasztie, this was Ingrid's crowing glory. Liv Ullmann was fine, but this was Ingrid's show all the way. A fitting and poignant coda to a remarkable career, and one of the great performances of the cinema. I also encourage followers to seek out Ingrid's early Swedish films (1935-40) and her often overlooked work with Roberto Rossellini (1950-54)--particularly Stromboli, Europa '51, and Journey to Italy. All are a true testament to an actress willing to take chances and broaden her scope.

Larry said...

Her films Winn rosellini are not overlooked any more. Constantly ranked among the best films ever by many prestigious polls such and Sight and Sound, this is likely beyond the wildest expectations of Ms Vergman herself.

Larry said...

Also this is a mind boggling performance. This along Notorious, are the best screen performances by Ms Bergman, one of the greatest actresses ever graced the silver screen.