Autumn Sonata

Autumn Sonata (Swedish: Höstsonaten) is a 1978 drama film written and directed by Ingmar Bergman, and starring Ingrid Bergman (in her final film role), Liv Ullmann and Lena Nyman. Its plot follows a celebrated classical pianist and her neglected daughter who meet for the first time in years, and chronicles their painful discussions of how they have hurt one another.

Autumn Sonata
Swedish theatrical poster
Directed byIngmar Bergman
Written byIngmar Bergman
Music byFrédéric Chopin
CinematographySven Nykvist
Edited bySylvia Ingmarsdotter
Distributed byConstantin Film
Release date
  • 8 October 1978 (1978-10-08) (Sweden)
Running time
99 minutes
CountryWest Germany
LanguageSwedish language

Autumn Sonata was the last of Ingmar Bergman's films to be made for theatrical exhibition; all of his films made after it, even those screened in theatres, were television productions.[1]


Eva (Liv Ullmann), wife of the village pastor, invites her mother Charlotte (Ingrid Bergman) for a visit to her village. She has not seen her for over seven years. Her mother is a world-renowned pianist, somewhat eccentric, aging, and has survived several husbands. Eva is not as talented as the mother (despite the fact that she has written two books and plays the piano passably). Eva's main concern is to be the mistress of her home, wife, mother, and loving sister. It is gradually learned through her dialogue with her mother that her life has had a large number of unfortunate setbacks: a husband (Halvar Björk) she respects, but does not really have affection for, their son drowned when only 4 years old, and Charlotte never appears to have loved Eva as a mother normally loves a daughter. As part of her day-to-day life, Eva takes care of her disabled and paralyzed sister Helena (Lena Nyman), whom she has taken out of the hospital into her own home. She appears to be the only person who can understand her sister's limited speech ability.

The presence of Helena in Eva's house is shocking to the aging mother. She makes a gift of her own wrist watch to Helena, and listens to Eva playing Prelude No. 2 in A minor by Chopin. She immediately re-performs the same prelude after Eva finishes in her own preferred interpretation of the music. Before going to bed, Charlotte decides to make a gift of her own car to her daughter. She plans to take a flight home, and buy a new car for herself, as a measure of her altruism. At night, Charlotte wakes up from a nightmare: it seems that Eva is choking her. She gets up, goes into the living room followed by Eva, who had heard her mother screaming from the nightmare.

Mother and daughter begin an impassioned rediscovery and clarification of their past relationship. Eva's husband overhears this unexpectedly heightened exchange, but wisely decides not to participate and interfere. Hearing this impassioned exchange, her disabled younger sister painfully forces herself out of her bed and starts crawling up to the stairs to where Eva and Charlotte are arguing. Upon reaching the landing she starts shouting, "Mama, come!"

In the morning Charlotte prepares for her departure. Eva goes to the grave of her departed son, and her husband ineffectively tries to soothe her ailing sister. Charlotte asks for a friend to escort her away by train. While speaking to her friend on the train, she begins to question the unfortunate fate of her disabled and paralyzed daughter, asking the unanswerable questions: "Why couldn't she die?" Her older daughter sends her mother a letter starting with: "I realize that I wronged you." The mother reads the letter that concludes by leaving open the possibility of a future reconciliation.



Due to his battle with the Swedish tax authorities at the time,[n 1] Ingmar Bergman produced Autumn Sonata through his West German company, Personafilm GmbH, with main financing from Lew Grade's British ITC Film, and shot the film in an old film studio outside Oslo in Norway.[2] Although formally a German production (with the German title, Herbstsonate, being the official original title), the dialogue is in Swedish, most of the crew and actors were Swedish,[3] and the world premiere was in Stockholm.[4]

Peter Cowie in the notes to the Criterion DVD edition of the film summarizes the production, stating: "Shot in Norway, with British and American backing, and featuring Swedish dialogue, Autumn Sonata emerged from one of the darkest spells in Ingmar Bergman’s life. In 1976 he had gone into voluntary exile in Munich after being accused of evading tax on the income from certain films... Autumn Sonata... marks the swan song of Ingrid Bergman’s career, fulfilled her long-held desire to make a film with her namesake."[5]


The piano piece in the film is Frédéric Chopin's Prelude No. 2 in A minor played by Käbi Laretei, whose hands are shown whenever Ingrid Bergman is depicted playing the piano.


In the Chicago Reader, Dave Kehr opined that Autumn Sonata "makes good chamber music: it's a crafted miniature with Bergman's usual bombast built, for once, into the plot requirements."[6] Conversely, Gary Arnold of The Washington Post felt that its story was "a dubious variation on familiar neurotic themes" in Bergman's work, but also wrote that "one can be impressed by Bergman's instrumentalists while rejecting his composition. ... Autumn Sonata enjoys instant status as an acting showcase."[7] Film critic Roger Ebert ranked the film at No. 5 in his list of 10 Best Films of 1978.[8]

Retrospective evaluation is favorable. In 2002, Keith Phipps of The A.V. Club wrote, "When it was released in 1978, Ingmar Bergman's Autumn Sonata received positive to indifferent reviews, written off by many as a minor work from a great director. ... With the burden of high expectations lifted, Autumn Sonata can finally be seen as an austerely beautiful meditation on death and the not-always-realized possibility of reconciliation across generations."[9] The film currently has an 85% rating on Rotten Tomatoes from 26 reviews.[10]


Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result Ref(s)
Academy Awards 9 April 1979 Best Actress Ingrid Bergman Nominated [11]
Best Writing (Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen) Ingmar Bergman Nominated
Bodil Awards 1979 Best Non-American Film Won [12]
César Awards 1979 Best Foreign Film Nominated [13]
David di Donatello Awards 1979 Best Foreign Actress Ingrid Bergman & Liv Ullmann Won [citation needed]
Golden Globe Awards 1978 Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Ingrid Bergman Nominated [14]
Best Foreign Language Film Won
Los Angeles Film Critics Association 16 December 1978 Best Actress Ingrid Bergman Nominated [citation needed]
Best Foreign Language Film Autumn Sonata Nominated
Nastro d'Argento Awards 1979 Best Foreign Director Ingmar Bergman Won [citation needed]
National Board of Review 19 December 1978 Best Director Ingmar Bergman Won [15]
Best Actress Ingrid Bergman Won
Best Foreign Language Film Won
Top Foreign Language Film Won
National Society of Film Critics 4 January 1979 Best Actress Ingrid Bergman Won [16]
New York Film Critics Circle 28 January 1979 Best Director Ingmar Bergman 3rd Place [17]
Best Actress Ingrid Bergman Won
Best Foreign Language Film 2nd Place

Remakes and stage adaptationsEdit


  1. ^ Autumn Sonata is the second of Bergman's three films produced during his exile from Sweden, after 1977's The Serpent's Egg and before 1980's From the Life of the Marionettes.


  1. ^ Nehme, Farran Smith. "Autumn Sonata: Mothers, Daughters, and Monsters". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 21 October 2014.
  2. ^ Ingmar Bergman Face to Face: Autumn Sonata - Shooting the film Archived 29 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 2011-07-11
  3. ^ Ingmar Bergman Face to Face: Autumn Sonata - Cast and credits Archived 29 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 2011-07-11
  4. ^ Ingmar Bergman Face to Face: Autumn Sonata - Film facts Archived 29 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 2011-07-11
  5. ^ Cowie, Peter (1 January 2000). "Autumn Sonata".
  6. ^ Kehr, Dave. "Autumn Sonata". Chicago Reader. Retrieved 16 January 2017.
  7. ^ Arnold, Gary (15 November 1978). "'Autumn': Spellbinding Stars". The Washington Post. Retrieved 16 January 2017.
  8. ^ "Ebert's 10 Best Lists: 1967–present". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on September 8, 2006.
  9. ^ Phipps, Keith (29 March 2002). "Autumn Sonata (VHS & DVD)". Onion Inc. Retrieved 16 January 2017.
  10. ^ "Autumn Sonata (1978)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 24 December 2020.
  11. ^ "Winners & Nominees". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 5 August 2019.
  12. ^ "Årets vindere" (in Danish). Bodil Awards. Retrieved 24 August 2019.
  13. ^ "Prix et nominations : César 1979" (in French). AlloCiné. Retrieved 22 August 2019.
  14. ^ "Autumn Sonata". Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Retrieved 5 August 2019.
  15. ^ "1978 Award Winners". National Board of Review. Retrieved 24 August 2019.
  16. ^ "Past Awards". National Society of Film Critics. Retrieved 24 August 2019.
  17. ^ Maslin, Janet. "Miss Bergman, Jon Voight And Deer Hunter Cited". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 August 2019.
  18. ^ Sörenson, Margareta (16 November 2009). "Höstsonaten / Dramaten". Retrieved 6 March 2015.
  19. ^ Kvist, Wilhelm (3 September 2017). "Publiken blir vampyrer och flygeln ett monster". Hufvudstadsbladet (in Swedish). pp. 34–35.

External linksEdit