Autumn Sonata was the only collaboration between cinema’s two great Bergmans: Ingmar, the iconic director of The Seventh Seal, and Ingrid, the monumental star of Casablanca. The grand dame, playing an icy concert pianist, is matched beat for beat in ferocity by the filmmaker’s recurring lead Liv Ullmann, as her eldest daughter. Over the course of a day and a long, painful night that the two spend together after an extended separation, they finally confront the bitter discord of their relationship. This cathartic pas de deux, evocatively shot in burnished harvest colors by the great Sven Nykvist, ranks among Ingmar Bergman’s major dramatic works.
Criterion upgrades their DVD edition of Ingmar Bergman’s Autumn Sonata to Blu-ray, presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 on this dual-layer disc. The film has been given a new 1080p/24hz high-definition transfer.
The film has a drastically different look in comparison to the original DVD edition (which was previous to this the only way I had seen the film.) The DVD had a reddish tone to it that I always figured was purposely done since the film went for an autumn colour scheme. That reddish hue is now gone and the image delivers far more natural looking colours, all of which look absolutely stunning here. Black levels are also strong with only some minor crushing in the film’s latter darker scenes. The print has also been cleaned up substantially and I don’t recall many blemishes if any.
There is a lot packed on this disc (one of the supplements is 206-minutes) so I was somewhat concerned this could harm the main feature but thankfully this doesn’t seem to be the case, more than likely because the features have been heavily compressed, allowing the film more room on the disc. In the end we get a solid digital presentation with clearly defined edges, clean looking film grain, sharp details, and no artifacts of note, giving a far cleaner and more natural image in comparison to the old DVD.
The film presents a lossless linear PCM 1.0 mono track for the film’s original Swedish soundtrack. It’s the furthest thing from an aggressive film but the track sounds fairly decent delivering strong dialogue with some noticeable fidelity, and clean music during the opening.
The disc, like the previous DVD edition, also includes an optional English track, presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 mono. It sounds fine enough, if a bit more flat in comparison, but it’s an obvious dub, with lips rarely matching what is being spoken. Cowie talks about the English version to some extent in his commentary so I assume it’s included here more as a curiosity than much else. Of the two the Swedish track is the cleaner one.
Criterion offers a substantial upgrade over their previous DVD edition, which only had one notable feature that has been carried over to this edition: an audio commentary featuring film scholar Peter Cowie. It’s a well put together track yet a pretty standard scholarly affair. Cowie covers the film’s production from Bergman’s initial writing to how both Bergmans worked together on set, to the film’s release. He talks about the use of colour, the framing and camerawork, the story’s central themes, the relationship between the characters, and more. It’s an engaging enough track, if fairly out of date (it was recorded 18-years ago for the Laserdisc edition) but not one I’ve ever been truly excited about.
Following this, in the “Supplements” section of the menu, is an introduction by Ingmar Bergman. Filmed by director Marie Nyeröd in 2003—along with a number of others that were used for introductions to television airings of Bergman’s films I believe—the director talks mostly about Ingrid Bergman’s casting and how it was to work with her, which he admits was incredibly difficult and not what he was used to. Though we will get more information about this throughout the supplements on the disc (including the commentary) it’s great getting it all from the director’s mouth. The introduction runs around 8-minutes.
Criterion then includes the somewhat over-whelming documentary The Making of Autumn Sonata, which runs a staggering 206-minutes. Filmed from the sidelines, simply observing events, it chronologically covers the making of the film from the initial cast and crew meeting, through various readings, piano lessons, costume drills, make-up, and actual filming. Just hearing how long the documentary is, which is more than twice the length of the film it covers, one may think that it’s overkill but amazingly it’s a rather fascinating document on the film. Most interestingly, though, is actually seeing Ingrid and Ingmar working together, and seeing a lot of the stories about their working dynamic we only heard about in other features playing out before us. A fabulous inclusion.
Liv Ullman next provides an exclusive interview with Criterion, talking about her work with Ingmar Bergman and her work on Autumn Sonata in particular. She recounts the development of the script and her knowledge that she would be in the film, and then her excitement when she found out Ingrid would be in the film. She also talks about the conflicts between the two Bergmans and how Ingrid managed to deeply hurt Ingmar with her constant questioning of the material. She has a couple of criticisms of her own towards the film, namely how the mother is presented, but still finds it a great work. Ending on a rather touching note, Ullman’s 19-minute interview is an insightful and fairly emotional one.
And then after all of these in-depth features Criterion still manages to find some more great material, this time in an interview with Ingrid Bergman at the NFT. Filmed in 1981 this conversation between the actress and John Taylor Russell, in front of an audience, goes over her early career and eventual move to Hollywood, her work with Rossellini, and then of course, though briefly, her role in Autumn Sonata. She’s asked about her opinion on the various directors she’s worked with (though she refuses to compare them since they were all so different) and then she participates in a Q&A with the audience. It’s an incredibly engaging conversation, with some wonderful injections of humour, giving a wonderful overview to Bergman’s career, despite being what feels like a too-short 39-minutes.
The disc closes with a theatrical trailer for the film and the also includes a booklet with a new essay by Farran Smith Nehme, replacing Cowie’s short one found in the insert of the original DVD edition.
Overall it’s a marked improvement over the previous DVD, offering substantially more material, including an extensive (to say the least) documentary on the making-of the film.
A sharp improvement in all areas, with a number of substantial and fascinating supplements, this upgrade is well worth picking up whether you own the previous DVD or not. Comes with a very high recommendation.