The pervading mainstream opinion about Ingmar Bergman is relatively misguided. No doubt, film critics and academics properly appreciate his artistry and mastery of the cinematic form. But for the most part, he’s regarded as the harbinger of doom and gloom; a stage-y proprietor of existential despair; and sometimes, worse yet, Woody Allen’s unfunny predecessor. Criterion’s latest restoration and release of one of his works, "Autumn Sonata," proves yet again that such reductions are beyond misguided. Bergman was a visual master, carefully composing each shot with dense semiotic concerns, telling his stories as much with image and blocking as he did with his character’s anguished cries.
Working with cinematographer Sven Nykvist, Bergman here crafts a universe constantly trapped in autumnal hues; the orange glow of a day near-over hanging over the entire proceedings. Ingrid Bergman, a screen legend in her own right, features as a flippantly dismissive mother who returns to her daughter’s home - first to empty proclamations of joy, and later to long-repressed accusations of cruelty. Bergman frames her fights with her now-grown daughter (played by Liv Ullman) as a parade of regrets - the chance for change has passed, and all that’s left is to reflect on their mistakes.
This re-release (Criterion had previously issued the film on DVD) is packed with extras: a ten-year old introduction recorded by the late Ingmar, an audio commentary by scholar Peter Cowie, a near-four-hour making-of documentary produced at the time the film was released, interviews with Liv Ullman and Ingrid Bergman, and the trailer originally used to promote the film. Yet as usual with Criterion’s director-centric releases, the treasure is the film, and the care with which it has been presented. The common line on Bergman is that he was the director who challenged us to think. Yet the compositions and colors on display here remind us that he was among the greatest craftsman to have graced the cinema yet.