Close Up

18 November 2018: Take Two: Autumn Sonata / The Piano Teacher


Autumn Sonata
Ingmar Bergman
1978 | 93 min | Colour | Digital
Swedish & English with English subtitles

“Shot during Bergman’s self-exile from Sweden, Autumn Sonata trades the rocky, windswept coastlines of much of the director’s output for the verdant alpine climes of Norway, where Eva (Liv Ullmann) lives in a cottage with her kindly husband Viktor (Halvar Björk) and disabled sister Helena (Lena Nyman). To this quiet abode comes Eva’s mother, Charlotte (Ingrid Bergman), an internationally successful concert pianist who at first delights with her arrival after a seven-year absence, but whose history of inadequacies as a parent resurfaces gradually over a series of soulful mother-daughter heart-to-hearts. A fiercely intimate two-hander with the tense silence of Cries and Whispers but bathed in its own unique autumnal glow, the film was Bergman’s first and only collaboration with cinema’s other monumental Bergman, who had to unlearn her classical techniques to meet the demands of her director’s unsparing, close-up-heavy naturalism. Whatever the challenges of their trial run, however, the result, surely elevated by Ullmann’s typically self-sacrificing co-starring turn, is one of the great final performances in film history, an emotional exorcism that casts the star’s faded glamour in a devastating light.” – Harvard Film Archive

The Piano Teacher
Michael Haneke
2001 | 129 min | Colour | Digital
French with English subtitles

Isabelle Huppert rushes in where most movie stars fear to tread as Erika, a brilliant, middle-aged instructor at a Viennese music conservatory whose icy domination of her pupils belies desperate, masochistic urges. When she meets Walter (Benoît Magimel), a brash 17-year-old student, his infatuation leads Erika to explore her most dissolute fantasies. Adapted from Elfriede Jelinek’s novel, the film pairs Haneke’s rigorous formalism with Huppert’s singular blend of fire and ice for an unnerving treatise on cruelty, repression, and the kinky underside of elegance. Winner of the Grand Prix and both acting prizes at Cannes, The Piano Teacher was described by Manohla Dargis as “a harrowing story of sex, fascism, and the ties that bind and sometimes throttle.”” – Film Scoiety of Lincoln Center

Part of our season on Ingmar Bergman