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Most of the ideas revealed through mystery by Bergman in Fanny och
already been addressed by others. The first time I saw this film was in
1984, on tv and
with a much shorter version than the one released in England in 2002,
is the full
300-plus minute original.
That day I was scared -really scared- watching the scene where Alexander is been helped to let out his most evil thoughts by Ishmael, a completely mysterious character with supernatural insight. And then, a blackout. You can imagine: if I was truly scared this left me breathless.
Then, almost twenty years passed until I found this remarkable jewel, in its full version, perfectly digitised and audio-enhanced in dvd. I bought a dlp projector and used a previewing room to show it to my students. I didn't know what was going to happen. But that doubt was worth the waiting.
I think it's very difficult to say any other thing than breathtaking to underline what this film accomplishes. It's the reflected work of years of understanding and hard work between Bergman and Nyvqvist. One of the most powerful, beautiful, fearful and perfect films of all times. An exaggeration, like. Yes, but I think that there are no words to explain how plainly perfect this work is. The way it was written. The way it was directed. The way it was lighted. The way it was designed. The way each and every character plays his or her role. The details -not a Bergman's new- to which they paid the most dedicated attention to. The luxurious use of available light. The setting of the story. The amazing locations. Everything in this film was perfectly studied, down to the colour shifts that would take place in every shot!, forget about whole scenes!
The troubling minds of all those characters whose lives are at crossroads. The powerful and eventful lives of just one familiy. The small and big affairs that affect them. Gratitude and hate. Honour and shame. Guilt and love. Fear and joy. Selfishness and generosity. Every long scene exudes with tension, pure fun or pleasure; with increasing uneasiness and abrupt changes of demeanor. With a richness that could only be found where a very skillful eye -trained to see what most disregard as common- finds beauty and harmony. And a sound that is as exhilarating as the narrative depiction.
When the maxim of making "every frame a Rembrandt" comes to my mind, this film makes me think Bergman pushed the envelope a little further: he gives (or I'd rather say, Nyvqyst) the tratment of Van Der Meer or Bosch or Cezanne or Michelangelo to some scenes. (Think the kids playing at the nursery, the housemaidens sewing socks, the meadow and the boat, the transfixing scene of Alexander in the attic with his mother).
And a story told from the eyes of two kids worth a ton of gold. Alexander's (Bertil Guve, when he was twelve-thirteen) enormously powerful and convincing role can certainly be compared to any big-theatre-role actor.
Superb. Don't think you've seen the whole thing until you get the 5 hour full-story.
As Ingmar Bergman's "swan song" (which wasn't necessarily the case once
After the Rehearsal and the recent Saraband were released), Fanny and
Alexander was a film I saw many months ago, in its truncated, 3-hour
version. I knew I had witnessed something special, something
life-affirming, and above all a work that contained enough poetry,
passion, and humanity for two movies. But I also felt as if there was
something missing here and there. So, once the complete TV version was
released, as with Scenes from a Marriage, I jumped at the opportunity
to view it in its entirety. Broken up here into 5 Acts, Bergman takes
another semi-autobiographical approach to his storytelling, and it's a
sumptuous tale of a turn of the 20th Century family (the Ekdahls,
comprising of Oscar and Emilie, the parents, Fanny and Alexander, the
kids- Alexander being mostly the driving force behind the story- and
also the other relatives Carl and Gustov Adolf, brothers of Oscar,
Helena, Alma, Lydia, and also the housemaid Maj) who own a theater
What makes Fanny and Alexander work as a major achievement, if anything else for my money is that all the elements seem balanced out over the acts, with story and characters, each sharply defined. The first act unfolds with attention to the little details and the more prevalent ones in a family gathering. A key speech made by Oscar is a haunting bit of foreshadowing before they set off for the family dinner. This scene, involving more or less two dozen people, is sometimes very funny, sometimes a little unnerving, and towards the end depressing. But scenes such as these reveal how wonderful and exciting Bergman can be with his material and actors- despite it taking place in 1907, you can see these people in modern settings just as easily. There's also the scene involving Oscar with his children before they go to sleep, in which he tells them a story, which ranks as one of the more memorable, touching scenes of the film - from here, we can understand how this brings to Alexander (Bertil Guve, in a performance that is touching by being so straightforward with the innocence of child-hood) to the state he's in for much of the rest of the picture.
Then the second and third acts come around, and the tragedy unfolds as penetrating as I've seen in any film, much less from Bergman. It wouldn't spoil it to say that Oscar succumbs to an illness, and passes away. From here, Emilie (Ewa Fröling, a performance meant for Liv Ullman, which she fits just as well) tries to go on as usual, and it just doesn't feel the same. She seeks counsel from the village bishop, Edvard Vergerus (Jan Malmsjo, previously in Bergman's Scenes from a Marriage), and subsequently falls in love with him, or at least thinks she does. They get married, and the children are forced into leaving (almost) everything behind to live at his dreary, caged residence, a far cry from where they once lived, a place lush with colors and life in the rooms. Both of these assets are provided by an Oscar winning production design team, and the foundations of how these two, including as well the theater, display how period-perfect some of this can be.
The last two acts are when things get rough, which is a standard Bergman is known for. This kind of standard, if I could call it such, includes his personal connection to the Christian church, in particular with his father being a Lutheran priest. I'm not guessing on how fact based Bishop Vergerus is to Bergman's life, and I really don't want to either. One of the things I loved about the film (than some likely hated on it's original release- I know, for example, that my father was devastated after watching this film) is how the good and the bad, or what could be seen as good and bad, are paired off, and how the middle-ground is just as clear or un-clear. Emilie is a good person, wanting the best for her children and for herself, but she doesn't know how to do that without someone to bring guidance when she cannot after grieving for her dead husband (who appears sometimes to Alexander, which is another matter). Alexander, who is a child raised with all the enthusiasm to express himself as such by his uncles and particularly his theatrical father Oscar, is good but lending himself to not being too firm on what's real and what is not.
The Bishop, on the other hand, is one who, as he says at one point "has only one mask". His is a puritanical approach, who sees imagination in only one strict aspect, and has terms of love that are by his code of living and understanding of people. Veregus, along with his family that live in fear and suffering (Harriet Andersson's character, and with the character of the heavy, ill aunt), know little is anything about how the Ekdahls have lived. What ends up happening, even from the get-go of the third act, in the fourth and fifth acts Bergman reveals Bishop Veregus to be an immense antagonist, one that allows just enough sympathy in one or two spots to not throw something at the TV, but with the kind of language that only the most terrifying of movie characters possess. Bottom line, this character, whether you like the film or not, is one of Bergman's greatest creations, and is pulled off by Malmjso with icy, disturbing perfection; it's one of the most memorable of the kind in film I can think of, right up there with Nurse Ratched, HAL 9000, and Darth Vader.
But what torment and anguish the characters, as well as much of the audience, seem to endure in the fourth/fifth acts; there also comes revelatory moments of sheer beauty and enchantment. A couple of scenes involving Alexander in the puppet shop, for example, display a level of artistry that goes between Bunuel and Disney. And a particular, long soliloquy by Isak (Erland Josephsson, not under-used at all) to the children is a poem unto itself that gives me an idea that Bergman had he not gone into theater and film, would've been one of the great poets of the 20th century. As the catharsis comes, it comes with a kind of justice that works in the only way it satisfyingly could have. With the fates of the Bishop, Emilie, and Alexander and Fanny brought to a close, as with the Grandmother, the uncles and aunts, and so on, it's all very symbolic, metaphorical, and real, and it gels together.
One last note- Sven Nykvist, who one his second Oscar with Bergman for this film, creates the kinds of shots that some could only have in their dreams. When he visualizes something for Bergman with the forces of light and dark, with the subtlety and nuance, it's all the better. To put this all in another way, I could go on and on about this huge, heart-rendering work, but it all comes down to this- as an emotional, intellectual, and spiritual (surprisingly for me, who sees religion as a kind of fantasy) sort of film-viewing experience, Fanny and Alexander is one of the most profound I've ever had. Some may feel the same; some may want to forget they ever experienced it. But one thing the film does is stick with you, if only for a little while, and that's really what a film can and should do....by the way, the 5-hour version, at least in America, is only available on a high-priced special edition DVD pack from Criterion, but for the viewer who's already a fan of the film, it makes for a great holiday gift. A++
Swedish director Ingmar Bergman has a reputation for dark, intellectual
and introspective dramas, which is only partly justified because many
of his early movies were rather light-hearted. Here is the longest
movie he did (three hours), and the theatrical version is only half of
the original which was twice as long. But length should not stop you
from watching this jewel of a film, which is both complex and
accessible. After all, "Gone with the Wind" is just as long.
"Fanny and Alexander "isn't exactly a family movie, but it is a movie about family. Family seen in all its different facets through the eyes of two children. The film is divided into three very different parts, each of them showing a different aspect of family life. It is set in Uppsala, Sweden (Bergman's native city), at the turn of the twentieth century. The story begins on Christmas Eve, and we are plunged right away into a fairytale atmosphere.
Fanny and Alexander"s family seems a happy one, actually a family of theatre actors. During the Christmas Eve party held at the grandmother's heavily-furnished house, the atmosphere is joyful at first glance, especially for the children who obviously feel very much at home. But reality is not just what it seems. The children's father is seriously ill. One of the uncles is manic-depressive, and the other is a skirt-chaser who has an affair with the young maid while his wife shows a lot of comprehension. Even the grandmother keeps a secret affair with a Jewish banker (played by Erland Josephson, a Bergman regular) that has lasted for many years.
The children's world collapse as their father dies. Soon after, their still young and beautiful mother marries the bishop, whose name is Vergerus (that's the name of the villain in all Bergman's movies, don't ask me why). The atmosphere in the bishop's house could not be more different from the children's first home. It is bare, silent, freezing. Alexander and the bishop hate each other from the start. This hate culminates when the bishop flogs Alexander to punish him, during a suffocating scene. War is declared from then on. Although the children's mother is pregnant, she already regrets her second marriage and seeks help from her former family.
The grandma's Jewish friend, who is also sort of a magician, manages to kidnap the children by a clever stratagem. They are sheltered in his house, which is full of puppets and mysterious objects. There, a strange nephew of his lives in seclusion (the role is played by a woman). From then on, reality and fantasy get blurred, but what is certain is that the evil bishop meets a cruel fate, and the children's mother finally makes it back to her former home.
The film ends as it began, with a party. Two new babies are just born : the mother's baby she had from the wicked bishop, and the maid's baby with the luscious uncle. The two of them are accepted immediately as part of the family, which is a rather precocious sign of Scandinavian open-mindedness (in 1900, illegitimate children were generally rejected as bastards).
Despite the title, attention is focused much more on Alexander than on Fanny. She is there all the time but speaks little, while showing unconditional solidarity with her brother. A possible reason is that the movie seems to have strong autobiographical elements, more than any other Bergman, and if so, Alexander seems to incarnate Bergman himself as a child. Bergman's father happened to be a minister, and the director confessed that he was raised in a very oppressive manner. Thus, it is quite possible that Alexander's step family is a representation of Bergman's real family, while Alexander's real family is the family Bergman had dreamed of, unsurprisingly a family of actors.
This film also displays the most accomplished use that Bergman's renowned photographer Sven Nykvist ever made of color. He was a long time reluctant to color and kept shooting in black and white well into the sixties. Bergman's first color movies had nothing special, until "Cries and whispers" where an obsessive use of red started to appear. The color contrasts are very strong in "Fanny and Alexander", and are especially used to underline the difference between the grandmother's colorful home and the bishop's house which is mostly all black and white.
There are many characters in this story, and all the major adult roles are played by actors who are all very famous in Sweden. There is a special appearance by Harriet Andersson, who played the female lead in many Bergmans of the fifties, especially well remembered as the whimsical "Monika". Here, she is ungratefully cast as the bishop's elderly tormented servant who likes scaring the children with horror stories. As for the young maid, she is played Pernilla Wallgren, who married Danish director Bille August and became later famous as Pernilla August. She played the lead in "The best intentions" directed by Bille August but based on a script by Bergman, and also taking place in Uppsala at the turn of the twentieth century...
I have wanted to see this film for years but I have missed it several times
they were showing it on television.And also because of my father does not
like Bergman(why??) but still think that this film is fantastic.I saw it
yesterday just after having read Bergman´s autobiography and this film is
much a autobiographical film.
I would like to say something about the cinematography and acting.But what is there more to say about Sven Nykvist´s cinematography then MASTERFUL.Before I saw the film I read in a newspaper that this is the best Swedish acting film ever made and it was actually picked as number two as the best Swedish film ever made for a couple of years ago(film fans voted).The WHOLE cast acts SUPERB,I am not sure if I have ever seen anything more perfect.
This is a chronicle over a family.It has a a great poetic script that combines just as it sad in a other comment:striking visuals.Bergman has really done this to a masterpiece.Now I want to see the five-hour version(i saw the 3 hour version).Colorful,perfect,frightening and sometimes even funny.What I guess I liked most was that they showed everything from the children´s eyes.One of Bergman´s best.5/5
"Fanny and Alexander" (1982) was announced at the time of its release
as Ingmar Bergman's swan song, his last film for the big screen. It is
his most optimistic and enchanting blend of romance, tragedy, comedy,
fantasy, and mysticism. Set in Sweden in the beginning of the 20th
century, the film follows the lives and adventures of two children,
brother and sister Fanny and Alexander Edkahl.
I love Bergman in every mood and in every genre - I love him dark, bleak, harrowing ("Shame"), mysterious ("Persona"), merciless and devastating ("Scenes from a Marriage, "Face to Face", "Autumn Sonata). I love his lighter, smiling side ("Wild Strawberries", "Smiles of a Summer Night). Even for a master of Bergman's powerful talent, "Fanny and Alexander" is extraordinary - a profound film which is also one of his most accessible works.
Pablo Picasso said once, "When I was 9 years old, I could paint like Rafael; as an adult, all my life I tried to learn how to paint like a child". In his final film, one of the greatest masters of dark and sometimes morose psychological studies looks at the world with a child's eye. The words he chose to finish his film with reflect the hope, the happiness and the magic that can be fully felt only in one's childhood: "...Anything can happen, anything is possible. Time and space do not exist. ..On a flimsy ground of reality, imagination spins out and waves new patterns." --- August Strindberg's introductory notes for A Dream Play.
I am not one for putting up idols on pedestals; mostly Bergman's films leave
me tepid or even cold. But Fanny och Alexander is a splendid production,
beautifully made, so superb it even evokes feelings of having come from a
novel. Excellent characterization throughout, all the way down the cast,
lending that magic touch to the costuming of the early 1900s. Mesmerising
throughout, the film is not a single minute too long. The development of the
story-line is superbly handled in an absorbing and coherent manner,
manifesting the great empathy between director and actors. If the
cinematography is visual poetry, the script is philosophical and full of
awareness or consciousness of things in life, but not at a pretentious,
abstract and theoretical level, but at a real human dimension.
If you only have 10 videos in your collection, Fanny och Alexander should be one of them. My vote is a bit higher than the IMDb average.
These comments refer to the 3-hour version.
This film could never have been made in the United States. I realize when it was made Bergman had been around for a long time and had his own clout but it still has too much of a philosophical slant to be mainstream here. This film is amazing. The first hour moves at a slow pace but it really sets up the rest of the movie well and then it really picks up. The cinematography is breathtaking and while this story makes you think a lot you don't feel ambivalent towards the characters through the rest of the first film after having been slowly introduced to all the characters you have a certain identifcation that is purely emotional and blends wonderfully with the other aspects of the film. It's truly great and should be considered one of Bergman's best works.
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)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Fanny and Alexander isn't utterly terrible. I enjoined parts of the
film very much and thought I'd gotten the hang of it on several
occasions. However, the film has several peculiarities that make me
question Bergmans talent for composing a unity.
The whole film seems to be merely a series of loosely connected scenes. Is Bergmans ambition to make a realistic portrayal of the times (the beginning), a lascivious farce (the erotic adventures of Gustav Adolf), an artistic endeavour to portray children's odd fantasies and views of the illogical adult world (the end)? For me, Bergman seems to fail completely in composing a cohesive film.
The big interest in the film lies on the personalities of the characters, and Bergman does succeed in portraying the bigger part of them credibly (Alexander, Carl, Oscar, the bishop). However, illogical characteristics of other characters make me doubt Bergmans understanding of the human nature. For example: Gustavs wife lets Gustav play around with other women without feeling jealousy. This could work if only the film in the whole would aim on being a farce or allegory of sexual oppression of women. In the context of the rest of the film, however, these details spoil the credibility of the film as a character study.
In the case of the bishop Bergman seems to rely on insufficient reasons for making him appear as such a beast of a man. Why does Emelie suddenly start hating her husband so passionately? He is slimy and idealistic but nonetheless the same man with whom she originally fell in love. Bergman doesn't motivate these feelings, and for me, paradoxically, the bishop appears to be the true victim - haunted by an ignorant director. As far as the bishop's injustice is concerned I take it that spanking wasn't uncommon in those days. Nevertheless, Emilies hate becomes known already before the punishing.
Also, I couldn't really comprehend the poetic and incredible ending. Later, I read on the internet how to interpret the scene where Isak comes to save the children. Putting this scene in the context of the rather realistic earlier parts of the film, it seems to me far-fetched that Isak should have conjured the children in the chest invisible and at the same time made their bodies show up in their room to convince the bishop he wasn't taking them anywhere.
Considering these confusing aspects of the film I wonder how much was cut from the original five-hour film. On the other hand, it is self-evident that skillful cutting and planning plays an important part when rating a film. Fanny and Alexander should be understandable without having to see any edited scenes.
Regardless of what is said above, I refuse to believe that the whole film-loving world could have been fooled to like Fanny and Alexander. I must have missed the point somewhere on the way. Maybe the film needs a second chance.
Perhaps the most impressive feature of this wonderful film is the humility
with which its creator presents it to the world, as if it were no grander
than the old-fashioned Nativity-play shown in the early scenes at the
At the end of this experience - to term it with any mere technical tag, like 'movie', would be inadequate - Bergman's profoundly grown-up disillusionment has transformed into the pure spirituality of abnegation and acceptance. His intellectual pilgrimage, through possibly the greatest career in films, finds the director arriving back where he began, with the great simplicities of life. But there is a difference with his return, which is that his prodigality over the years has burnt the rage out of him, and finally allowed him to 'enjoy what may be enjoyed' (as one of the Ekdahls says), without further fretting over the puzzle of human existence. From all this human folly (he clearly feels) comes the only wisdom, which is - simply - to be human.
It is, indeed, a film like no other for allowing the pieces of experience to settle into their appointed places. There is a beautiful quality of selfless resignation, in this last of his works for cinema, which finally and forever excels the sadistic disciplines of The Bishop.
This perverted creature confesses, to the new wife whom he has lost, how it is impossible to 'tear off the mask' as it is 'burned into my face': He is become an authoritarian '... a rite, a law, a custom - not a man'. [Shelley] Having put the notional love of God before that of humankind, there is nowhere for his personality to be re-enacted in the bosom of any kindly recollections that will survive him. Except in that of Alexander/Bergman, where his two, each-in-their-own-way terrifying, fathers, both the White and the Black opposites of an imagination flickering with the director's haunted vision, will project forever onto his Cinematic arena of stark absolutes the inner strife where each of us is locked away, struggling to endure the turmoil of these eternally irreconcilable truths.
The White Knight and The Black Bishop: These are phantom moves in our great game with Death, and pieces that will be returned into play for as long as humanity continues. How like Chess Life is: Just a game we play, with arbitrary rules, and yet whose progress is of supreme and abiding concern to each and every one of us.
This great work is a monument to play, in all its senses, not least the play of light and the play of ideas, both equally insubstantial and yet the essence of reality, eloquent as the silence of a great, roofless Cathedral. Out of the Ruin of Faith, Bergman has wrought a Peace that passeth understanding. And it is in this ultimate by-passing of the relentless structures of intellect that Bergman finally achieves the resolution of his productive neuroses, in a truly magical film whose every phase is as inevitable as breathing, or the changeable and unimpeded weather.
As the grandmother reflects. at last, 'I don't want to put Life together anymore. I just leave it broken. Strangely, it seems better that way.'
Death, in the end, is not a calamity, but the choice of all who have truly known Life. In other words, to choose Life is to accept its Dark partner, Death. And to accept each as part of the family group, even though they seem complete misfits there.
The old lady, with Strindberg's Dream-play in her lap, knows at last that the whole history of her family is only a personal reverie. And yet how much more real it seems than her son Carl's immature and somewhat absurd, angst-ridden railings against 'cruel Fate'!
Had he only accepted his patient wife's gently sympathetic injunction to 'Never mind' the Professor would have been both wiser and happier, enduring with patient fortitude the oceanic inconsequentialities of life's real Mystery, and attending far less to the trivial pseudo-mysteries of his solipsistic men's club. All his morbid rationalising is precisely as much use in real life as the usual state of alcoholic befuddlement which is the only serious pursuit of this club.
Reason as befuddlement; The sleep of reason as deliverance. With saint-like humility, Bergman gives us back our ordinary human life, as he surrenders his exceptional life in films. But he knows that the ghost of this life will always be with us. His anguished worldliness will haunt us - as the Ghost of Hamlet's father must haunt Alexander - forever.
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