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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Persona isn’t the only stellar two-woman showcase by Ingmar Bergman

Illustration for article titled iPersona/i isn’t the only stellar two-woman showcase by Ingmar Bergman

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Arriving in select theaters Friday, The End Of The Tour belongs to a fine tradition of movies that feature little more than two actors gabbing at each other. We’ve lined up five days of the same, recommending some fine two-person talkfests.

Autumn Sonata (1978)

“A mother and a daughter: what a terrible combination.” This line is at the heart of Autumn Sonata, which has endured as one of Ingmar Bergman’s signature films despite the odd circumstances of its production (it was shot on a shoestring in Norway while the great director was in self-imposed exile from Sweden) 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. In one corner, Bergman’s perennial collaborator Liv Ullmann as Eva, a woman who spent her childhood under the agile, dexterous thumbs of her famous concert pianist mother Charlotte. In the other, Ingrid Bergman as said mother, whose studied grace and seeming obliviousness to her past transgressions—and to the separate agonies that her daughter has suffered in the years since—belies a bottomless insecurity. The actor doesn’t so much sublimate the glamour of her Hollywood roles as suggests how that kind of beauty and vivacity can harden into a looming monument—the mom as monolith.


Despite the presence of a few other actors in small roles (including Linn Ullmann, daughter of the director and his muse, as the young Eva), the film is basically structured as a duet, alternating almost musically between the lulls and crescendos of the pair’s verbal exchanges. In the most painful sequence, the dynamic is actually expressed through music, as Eva’s tentative recital of a Chopin piece while Charlotte watches impassively reveals the depth of their dysfunction. The entire film is pressurized to the point that the spaces between the words are often as tense (and devastating) as the hyper-articulate accusations and revelations that emerge over the course of the visit. Shooting predominantly in huge, screen-filling close-ups that recall his earlier, groundbreaking Persona—an alternate title could have been Face To Face—Bergman transforms a potentially prosaic chamber piece into compelling cinema.

Availability: Autumn Sonata is available on Criterion Blu-ray and DVD from Netflix or possibly your local video/library. It’s also streaming on Hulu Plus.

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