At one point or another in our lives, we have all felt like caged birds. Perhaps we succumbed to tradition or to the expectations of others. Maybe we set ourselves up in a confining situation. No matter what the circumstance, once inside, we yearned for freedom. Then it dawned on us that we had it within our power to open the doors of the cage. Indeed, no one else could set us free.

This theme is vividly and poignantly brought home in Sofie, a beguiling and bittersweet film set in Copenhagen at the end of the nineteenth century. Sofie is a beautiful and cultured 28-year-old who lives at home with her parents Frederikke and Semmy. They only want the best for her and worry that she will end up an old maid like her three aunts with whom they share the weekly Sabbath meal.

Then Sofie meets Mr. Hojby, an artist who immediately appreciates her poetic soul and inner beauty. To get closer to her, he volunteers to paint a portrait of her parents. Hojby captures on canvas the essence of their fine and close relationship. Sofie, seeing it, bursts into tears.

The artist is equally impressed with Sofie. He tells her. "When I look at your face I see your soul free as a bird." But despite her magnetic attraction to Mr. Hojby, Sofie capitulates to duty and to the desires of her parents who don't want her to marry a Gentile.

Instead she accepts the marriage proposal of Jonas, a respectable Jewish businessman who runs a drapery shop in Sweden. He's a neurotic and non-communicative man who is deeply attached to his mother. Isolated and frustrated in her new home, Sofie realizes that she will never experience the marital happiness of her parents.

The only bright spot in her life is her son, Aron. When Jonas is unable to handle his business affairs after the death of his mother, Sofie takes over. Eventually, she and Aron return to Copenhagen when Jonas is institutionalized.

Sofie oversees the maturation of her son and the physical deterioration of her parents. When Aron wants to set out for a life on his own, Sofie's head tries to convince him of his duty to her, but her heart realizes that he must not become another caged bird. She lets him go in love.

This richly detailed and affecting screen interpretation of a 1932 novel by Danish author Henri Nathanson, serves as a perfect vehicle for Liv Ullmann's directorial debut. She has obviously harvested all the lessons learned in her own 30-year career as an actress. She draws out superb performances from Karen-Lise Mynster as Sofie and Erland Josephson and Ghita Norby as her parents.