Friday, August 17, 2007

The Sonata in Celluloid

I know nothing about Sonata, but definitely listened some classic sonata without really knowing that they are sonata except mentioned in the title, e.g., the Moonlight Sonata (Beethoven). As it seems, generally for people like me who are just laymen in Wester Classical music, a Sonata is a musical movement which has five different parts or rather moods!
  1. Introduction - a short slow paced piece of music slightly toned down. Something just to introduce the themes or the main characters.
  2. Exposition - the portion of sonata when the real theme starts unfolding. A little detailed piece that takes the music to the point where the climax can start. Its the preamble to the argument.
  3. Development - the most frenetic part where the argument of the music reaches the peak. It starts right from the note where exposition ended, it is sometime hard to differentiate where exposition ended and where development started! It peaks up, reaches the climax and bursts!
  4. Recapitulation - the post climax movement when you just think and think what had just happened. The argument is over. Till the development it was just happening at such a pace, you didn't even had time to think. Now its time to slow down and go over, because its already done!
  5. Coda - the tail-piece that ends the music in perfect cadence.
Victor introduces Eva (Liv Ullman), his wife in monologue in a way that it seems he is someone who is watching the movement from outside and not at all involved in the events that are yet to come. Then Eva writes to her mother Charlotta (Ingrid Bergman) inviting her to come. As Charlotta arrives, Victor as well as you can feel Eva had so much hatred hidden inside herself for her mother; she almost takes pleasure in shocking her mother when she tells her that Helena is living with her. And why she wouldn't take avenge? It was Charlotta who hasn't maintained any contact to her daughters for seven years. She was so busy with her career as a concert pianist that she neglected her children and sent Helena, the spastic daughter to a home where she never visited. Now as Charlotta's lover Leonardo is dead and she is lonely, she responded to daughter's call. Isn't she selfish. But still they are mother and daughter, they want to reconcile... but there is wall between them. And as the day goes by the wall becomes more prominent and finally comes the horrific climax when Eva, unable to control her hatred accuses her mother of all wrongs she and her sister had suffered in childhood. All of a sudden the movement moves from exposition to development reaching for the final argument. Its a dangerous combination - a mother and a daughter, acquisition and defences. Finally the argument is over,and its time for Eva to recapitulate. She realizes what she has done and writes another letter to her mother. As Charlotta reads the letter the movie comes to an end with perfect cadence.
This is how Bergman composes his Sonata in celluloid - the 'Autumn Sonata'. I've told the almost the whole story. But only when you see it you can realize how powerful this sonata is because it's not the story only its the scenes that make up this masterpiece.
There is only three times when any music has been used in the movie. Once a piece from Chopin played by Eva and Charlotta respectively and the a Bach suit played by Leonardo that represents the tragedy of Helena. Its the scenes where Eva and Helena plays Chopin, we come to know the real Charlotta. Eva plays it conventionally with her sadness for loosing her son Eric at the age of four. But when Charlotta plays it, as she explains the piece in her way, we suddenly feel that all her emotions are confined in music; and its only music by which she can express her feelings and it is only the language of music which she understands naturally. Bergman captures it in an wonderful close up with Charlotta's profile, eyes closed, playing the music and behind her is Eva's face. She is staring at her mother with full of sadness. Well, this movie has a excessively large number of close ups almost 80% of the shots are close ups. And here we realize the how powerful actor was Ingrid Bergman and Liv Ullman. In the sequence when Charlotta speaks of Leonardo's death, you don't need to see the subtitle; every word is clearly understandable from the close up. Great Bergman. Or long close ups of Eva in the midnight when she, almost infuriated, accuses her mother in a high pitch voice, you know you have to watch it to realize the intensity. Then there's the final sequence of the development; Charlotta asks forgiveness from Eva for her wrongdoings. She now wants to reach out her children. She utters in great despair, 'Please help!'. Eva stays stone-faced; but upstairs Helena, who is almost a physical embodiment of Eva's emotional crippledness as if choked in dream struggles hard to reach out to something and lies on floor exhausted on top of the stairs and cries, 'Mama come'.
The commentary to the movie says Ingrid, Ingmar and Liv Ullman all had had a troubled family life. Ingmar had occasional fight with his father for his passion for theatre and he left home at an early age. He could only reconcile with his father just five years before his death. Liv Ullman on the other hand was thrown out of her family when she had a baby with Ingmar. Her marriage was ruined and she left with Ingmer. But strikingly Ingrid has more similarity with Cherlotta. She left her child daughter and went to live with Italian director Roberto Rossolini. For almost four years she couldn't contact her daughter due to her career. She knew the pain Charlotta had. As you watch through the movie you sympathize sometimes with Eva, sometimes with Charlotta.
And out of all these what is cooked up is a masterpiece, a sonata that can not be forgotten easily.

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