Superficially, Autumn Sonata offers a parade of miseries that would be absurd in a lesser filmmaker's hands, but what Bergman's imitators have never entirely grasped is his sensuality, his tenderness and even his sense of humor; they only respond to the unhappiness, which they regard as offering piercing truth rather than metaphor... At his best, and the first half of Autumn Sonata is as good as anything he ever made, the filmmaker achieves a transcendent empathy.
Employing cinematography of a lighter hue, and benefiting from the masterful acting of Ingrid Bergman and Liv Ullman playing Charlotte and Eva respectively, Autumn Sonata is one of Bergman’s more accessible films, and thus provides a gentle entry into his imposing corpus. How, then, to gain entry into Autumn Sonata, the inviting anteroom of Ingmar Bergman’s labyrinthine cinematic castle?
[Autumn Sonata] has endured as one of Ingmar Bergman’s signature films despite the odd circumstances of its production and the relative subtlety of its style (it lacks the brilliantly color-coded mise-en-scène of Cries And Whispers or the epic sweep of Fanny And Alexander). What it has instead are two very different yet equally remarkable actors to enact its maternal drama, which at times feels like the emotional equivalent of a heavyweight prizefight.