Set in Japan in the 16th century (or so), an elderly warlord retires, handing over his empire to his three sons. However, he vastly underestimates how the new-found power will corrupt them, or cause them to turn on each other...and him...
It's the early twentieth century Sweden. Adolescent siblings Alexander and Fanny Ekdahl lead a relatively joyous and exuberant life with their well-off extended paternal family, led by the family matriarch, their grandmother, Helena Ekdahl. The openness of the family culture is exemplified by Helena's now deceased husband ending up becoming best friends with one of her lovers, a Jewish puppet maker named Isak Jacobi, and their Uncle Gustav Adolf's open liaison with one of the family maids, Maj, who everyone in the family adores, even Gustav Adolf's wife, Alma. Between the siblings, Alexander in particular has inherited the family's love of storytelling, his parents and his grandmother who are actors and who manage their own theater. Things change for Alexander and Fanny when their father, Oscar, dies shortly after Christmas 1907. Although she truly does believe she loves him, the children's mother, Emilie, decides to marry Bishop Edvard Vergérus, who she first met as the officiate at ... Written by
Although I have disliked Bergman's earlier films and thought they were by far too overrated, that did not apply to this film. I saw the director's-cut version, over five hours. A little long, yes, and there is not much music, but it's not slow, like Tarkovsky's films can be.
The opening is great, and the first act, the first one and a half hour, was the part I liked the very most. The realism is utter, so is the casting; the best acting I have seen in a Swedish film, it's amazing. I can't complain about any actor, they were all extremely good. So is the dialog. Alexander had a typical upper class look, so did his grandmother, who looked extremely fresh and healthy and beautiful, for her age. All together, the language and milieus are very credible. No over-colorful costumes and silly dialogs, that is such a frequent element nowadays in historical plays, especially from America.
Bergman succeeds to capture the customs and behavior that were used (and to some extent still is used) within the Swedish upper class, as well as general Swedish customs and behavior. I know this, because I am familiar with it and have partly experienced it myself. The result is sometimes amazing. Bergman succeeds to capture the atmosphere of the old times, through language and decoration. The photo is at time dazzling; some scenes are identical to 19th century Swedish painting, and I get the thought that Bergman turned to these in search for the right setting of the film.
Unlike early works by Bergman, which tend to be somewhat theatrical, the keyword here is realism, which I appreciate greatly. The actors manage, like I said, to speak and play in a way that I feel was customary at that period of time. It might be too much to claim this work to be a Swedish Tarkovsky film, but I sensed it had some philosophical material, and it is definitely thoughtful. Otherwise, I think it is worth watching for the acting and dialog alone.
One of the best Swedish films ever made, and Bergman's best, in my opinion. (9/10)
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