Autumn Sonata

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Autumn Sonata
US theatrical poster
Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Written by Ingmar Bergman
Starring Ingrid Bergman
Liv Ullmann
Lena Nyman
Halvar Björk
Music by Frédéric Chopin
Cinematography Sven Nykvist
Distributed by New World Pictures (US)
Release dates
8 October 1978 (1978-10-08) (Sweden)
Running time
99 minutes
Country West Germany
Language Swedish

Autumn Sonata (Swedish: Höstsonaten, German: Herbstsonate) is a 1978 Swedish drama film written and directed by Ingmar Bergman and starring Ingrid Bergman, Liv Ullmann and Lena Nyman. The movie tells the story of a celebrated classical pianist who is confronted by her neglected daughter. It was Ingrid Bergman's last performance in a major theatrical feature film. Autumn Sonata was Ingmar's last film made for the cinema; all his films from this point, even those which received theatrical release, 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 has a passing talent at playing the piano). 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 her disabled and paralyzed sister Helena (Lena Nyman) out of the Hospital into her own home, and she appears to be the only person who can understand her sister's limited speech ability.

The presence of her younger paralyzed daughter in Eva's house is shocking to the aging mother. She makes a gift of her own wrist watch to her younger paralyzed daughter, 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 and sees Eva there also awake and not sleeping.

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 the words: "I realize that I wronged you." The mother reads the letter in which her daughter, in its conclusion, leaves open the possibility of a future reconciliation as the film ends.


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 his long-held desire to make a film with his namesake, and was his first film in Swedish in eleven years."[5]


The piano piece played in the film is Chopin's Prelude No. 2 in A minor.

Awards and nominations

The film won the 1979 Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It was also nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Ingrid Bergman) and Best Original Screenplay.

Remakes and stage adaptations


  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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Ingmar Bergman Face to Face: Autumn Sonata - Shooting the film Retrieved 2011-07-11
  3. Ingmar Bergman Face to Face: Autumn Sonata - Cast and credits Retrieved 2011-07-11
  4. Ingmar Bergman Face to Face: Autumn Sonata - Film facts Retrieved 2011-07-11
  5. Criterion Collection essay by Peter Cowie
  6. Sörenson, Margareta (16 November 2009). "Höstsonaten / Dramaten". Retrieved 6 March 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links