Color, 1978, 97 mins.

Directed by Ingmar Bergman

Starring Ingrid Berman, Liv Ullmann, Lena Nyman, Halvar Björk, Georg Løkkeberg / Cinematography by Sven Nykvist

Format: DVD - Criterion (MSRP $39.98)

Letterboxed (1.66:1) / Dolby Digital Mono

Another excursion into the emotional torment that is the human family unit, Autumn Sonata (Höstsonaten) presents the expected level of angst found in Ingmar Bergman's '70s work but also offers some welcome indications of redemption and grace. Eschewing the fantasy elements which characterized some of his most famous work (Fanny and Alexander, The Seventh Seal), Bergman instead pared down his formula to the same basic "characters in a room" method he previously mined in Cries and Whispers.

Seven years after their last meeting, renowned pianist Charlotte (Ingrid Bergman) decides to visit her daughter, Eva (Liv Ullmann). Now living a tender but strangely loveless marriage with the sensitive Viktor (soft porn actor Halvar Björk), Charlotte has taken on the duty of caring for her younger, mentally handicapped sister, Helena (Lena Nyman), whom Charlotte had placed in an institution years earlier. Though the women seem civil enough on the surface, Charlotte's stay eventually unearths a host of seething emotions and resentments which force both mother and daughter to confront their demons and grow as human beings.

The only collaboration between the two famous Bergmans (who weren't related), Autumn Sonata is essentially a small chamber piece meant to serve as more of an introduction to his style than a major advancement of any major themes in Ingmar Bergman's work. Ullmann once again proves her range as she deglamorizes herself and, thanks to her ponytails, takes on the appearance of a fragile and ultimately enraged little girl, saddled with a mother who also finds herself unable to cope with the demands of adulthood. Sven Nykvist's sensitive photography drenches the screen in unnaturally saturated levels of orange and gold, appropriate to the title, while he and Bergman create some of the most imaginative and psychologically penetrating compositions in his work since Persona.

Criterion's DVD looks extremely similar to their previous laserdisc and the VHS edition from Home Vision, though the problematic distortion of many of the color schemes is noticeably more under control here. The marginally letterboxed image looks satisfying throughout, though some shadows have a tendency to become pale and slightly bluish (a flaw in the source print, most likely). Despite a couple of speckles, the source materials are in excellent shape, though for some reason the English opening titles have been spliced onto a mint Swedish print (thus allowing for optional English subtitles). The disc also includes an optional English-dubbed track, which is frankly ludicrous considering Bergman speaks some of her lines in English in the original film anyway. The clash between her natural voice and the English dubbing by another actress is quite surreal, to say the least. Peter Cowie contributes a truly stellar audio commentary, one of Criterion's best, in which he makes a solid case for this often dismissed film as one of Bergman's most significant achievements. His combination of amusing anecdotes, biographical detail, and critical insight (the role of children, the psychological influences of color, and so on) make for very good listening which dramatically enriches one's enjoyment of the film. A brief and very worn theatrical trailer is also included.

Mondo Digital Reviews Mondo Digital Links Mondo Digital