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After watching this great film a second time some thirty years after the first time, it is unquestionably one of the best in cinema history. I thing of it as Ingemar Bergman's 'Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man." Unfortunately, he never followed up the movie with his "Ulysses." But this can be excused because "Fanny and Alexander" is a hard act to follow. The movie deserves all of the plaudits it has received, as well as its Oscar (Isn't it interesting that one of the major characters is named Oscar) so there is nothing more to add. My only question is that because of the title, it seems that Bergman is holding back something from us about "Fanny," It doesn't seem to make sense that she be part of the title, yet have little consequence in the narrative other than being a foil for her slightly older brother. I wonder if this question had ever been addressed to Bergman before he died.
This epic Bergman film, edited down to 3 hours from the original 5-hour
television series, is roughly divided into three parts, about one hour
each. Part one sees the Christmas celebration of the Ekdahl family, in
a lush and almost choreographed manner, in what is basically a series
of "postcards" of traditional Christmas fable-imagery. Nevertheless,
after the jovial start, the film soon turns to a portrait of family
disintegration, with various Ekdahl family members revealed to be in
Part two is much more typical Bergman fare, with a minimal and austere direction accompanying a tale of religious oppression and suppression. Sadly, while a powerful drama, like most dramas it suffers from a hyperbolic and too-dramatized plot, so that the director gets the point across (in this case the usual Bergman obsessions: the "silence" of god, the tyranny of the church).
Part three, and perhaps the most impressive, is a galanty show cast across an Ekdahl-family friend's antique-shop and puppet-show. Here Bergman turns to mysticism and subliminal imagery, in what is a seldom-seen part of his work.
The conclusion (another family feast) centers it's orientation towards a celebration of family and art, and the message seems to be simply that life goes on.
Ingmar Bergman was, without question, one of cinema's truly great
visionaries. His cerebral experiments with character and narrative in
the 1960's with films such as The Silence (1963), Persona (1966) and A
Passion (1968) are still as relevant and interesting today as his more
conventional art films of the 1950's, of which Smiles of a Summer Night
(1955), The Seventh Seal (1957) and Wild Strawberries (1957) are the
most iconic and best known. He continued to make staggering films far
into the 70's as well, long after many of his closest contemporaries
had submitted to self-parody and over indulgence, and was still able to
produce great work like Cries and Whispers (1972), Scenes from a
Marriage (1973) and Face to Face (1976) even when working within the
incredibly limiting confines of Swedish television.
With this in mind, Fanny and Alexander (1982) would seem to be the culmination of everything that Bergman had been working towards throughout his entire career; with many of the themes, ideas, ghosts and characters that had appeared and reappeared not only in his work but also in his life and childhood being written into the script and presented on the screen. We also get many of the same narrative and thematic preoccupations here too; with innocence, death, ghosts, dreams, childhood and infidelity all featuring heavily, and with everything further cross-referenced to the films that came before. This isn't particularly surprising, since Bergman's work was always self-referential, but what does impress with this is the bold use of light, sound, design and composition, giving us bold and glowing colour where there was once iconic black and white and an enormous amount of vibrant movement where there was once static, highly rigid examination.
Another impressive factor is Bergman's intelligent, self-reflexive use of narrative framing, which not only works in relation to the film and the characters therein, but in the presentation of his own life and the semi-autobiographical allusions made in the script. So, with Fanny and Alexander we have the presentation of a play within a play within a film. One play is created by Alexander, whilst the other play is created by Shakespeare, recreated by the adults and filmed by Bergman. In general, there are a lot of references made to plays and the theatre - which is very much fitting given the fact that it was Bergman's great love - with continual references made towards Hamlet, Macbeth and the work of Charles Dickens. We also have the more clear-cut, autobiographical aspect of Bergman "as Alexander", the would-be storyteller and narrator of the film itself, giving us the obvious representation of innocence submitting to adulthood and warm nostalgia.
The key scene for me here, the one where the ideas of the film take flight and offer the viewer something truly magical, is the sequence wherein Fanny and Alexander stay with the Jewish money-lender. The imagery here is startling and eases us into the second half of the drama in which the vaguely supernatural elements begin to accumulate, either as a result of Alexander's burgeoning imagination or as a result of the continual meta-textual reference points to the play within a play. Certainly, it may be less concise and iconic than The Seventh Seal, or seemingly less experimental than Persona, but it is still, without question, amongst the very greatest European films of the 20th century; filled to the brim with intelligent ideas, raw emotions, fun and frivolity, grand spectacle, beautiful colours, Gothic melodrama, ghosts and apparitions, music and movement and, as thus, is clearly one of Bergman's most intelligent, imaginative and visually impressive films.
Although he would go in to direct numerous projects for television - including the celebrated follow up to Scenes from a Marriage, Sarabande (2003) - Fanny and Alexander remains Bergman's ultimate final word as a filmmaker, and is a wonderful culmination of the themes and ideas that had been slowly gathering and evolving throughout his impressive and distinguished career.
I should note that this review is strictly for the 188 minute version,
as I have not seen the 312 minute version. With that in mind, "Fanny
and Alexander" is Ingmar Bergman's acclaimed chronicle of a well-to-do
Swedish family in the early 1900s, seen often from the perspective of
two children, Fanny and Alexander.
The early 1900s are brought to life with opulent, colorful sets and scenes and appropriate costumes. Stylistically this film blended two major streams. Firstly, it followed a style reminiscent of realist Ibsen-like play where we are presented with an attractive surface situation only to slowly learn of the deep problems and complex relationships of the characters beneath the surface. However, there is also a strong supernatural element to the story. From this angle, it was interesting how Bergman wove "Hamlet" into the film both with direct references to the play and with the motif of a recurring ghost.
A chief adjective used to describe this film is "accessible". I agree with this description in the sense that the film touches profoundly on themes including death, sex, hardship, child punishment, imagination, infidelity, the role of women in marriages and ghosts for a lengthy duration without becoming boring or overwhelming.
The first third of the story focuses on developing the adults and their relationships surrounding Fanny and Alexander. At first the film takes its time exploring the film's setting and then becomes increasingly engrossing as it focuses on characterizations and the film's interminably clever dialogue. The last two thirds of the film focus on the title characters, Fanny and Alexander and their touching story. All of the characters are well-developed and the performances are superb all-around from Fanny and Alexander to the adult roles. "Fanny and Alexander" is a meticulously constructed and engaging story of a Swedish family in the early 1900s.
The first Bergman film I've seen is the director's last: I was excited,
his reputation puts him in the upper echelon of directors, as far as
I'm concerned, and I thought I could stomach his 'more accessible' film
easily- I've seen tougher. This is a review of the 188- minute version,
and perhaps that influences some of my opinions.
Took in all kinds of things- why does the statue move? What does it say about Alexander? I tried to get a grasp on who's in the family: but then it all- falls- apart. Maybe I'm not yet ready for this type of film, but my god as an objective viewer I was sadly, sadly disappointed.
The exposition at the very long Swedish version of the Godfather's opening fails: which bearded man is which? Who is the old lady? Who the hell are Fanny and Alexander's parents? On that note, where's Fanny? The titular character doesn't appear for nearly an hour and never does more than stand around and sometimes stick up for her brother, but she has about as much emotion as Bella from Twilight- yes, that comparison just happened. I didn't know who the father was until he died (that's not a spoiler) and didn't connect with who the mother was until we see her grieving in admittedly an excellent scene, one of the best.
The kicker is that the family is interesting but it doesn't come to much. Helena, the grandmother, is a wonderfully warm presence and one of the film's great cheers. Gustav Adolf is very lively, but I am baffled that the whole family is OK with him having impregnated his mistress, one of Helena's housekeepers. His wife is OK with it! Everyone treats it like a normal thing! Carl and his wife are just miserable, but their plot goes nowhere, and finally Isak is cheery and likable. The film's greatest, saving strength is its acting: the performances are sublime, and the chemistry between actors is that of a tight- knit family. The tyrannical Edvard is not even that horrible of a person, only a stark contrast from Oscar, but his portrayal and the way the film plays out leads us to see him as a monster.
So after the ridiculously long party, and once Oscar dies, we see what the new home life will be like and then the intermission occurs. After that things change radically and things become surreal. It's captivating, especially with the minimalist piano (fantastic music throughout) but I was never sure where real life ended and fantasy began. In its context, talking to the dead makes sense: but miraculous mirages? That's the best answer even Bergman came up with, miracles. Telepathy? I couldn't buy it after seeing a family drama for 2 hours.
So the plot trips all over itself, made extra painful by the aforementioned acting and the exquisite script, with amazing dialogues that translate well to English. That essentially sums up the film: top- caliber everything except for a failure to build initial thoughts on characters, and having a terrible plot rife with holes. I'm reminded of a Shakespearean comedy: I think they get buy just by having his name attached. Midsummer's Night Dream is awful. This is not awful, but not nearly what I expected. This is now the definitive example as to why plot overrules everything. 7.0/10
The film, of course, is well directed, actors are pleasant (although
the children Fanny and Alexander are not much seen during the first
half), and background/costumes provide additional value, enabling this
sequence of different scenes to be combined and better understood. At
times it seems like 17th-18th century opera (only without music) where
decorations and luxurious clothes form an integral part of performance.
Fortunately, the film is not black-and-white.
However, I am not so much into the-rich-cry-too films, and Fanny och Alexander is definitely one of them. It is always so that there are intrigues, hate and idleness around wealth and money, but less wealthier will never understand this -- for them, making their daily living is the most important and all-comprehending issue.
As for the historic dramas, I prefer e.g. British or French similar ones (Howards End, for example). And noble life in Uppsala seems (and surely was) more dull and less majestic than in Western Europe.
Fanny and Alexander is my favorite film and, in my opinion, Bergman's
finest work. Where to begin? The lavish, beautiful costumes, the
heavily detailed and atmospheric sets, the perfect performances, the
writing, the masterful cinematography, the writing, and of course the
direction -- all working in sync to create a masterpiece of cinema and
It's obviously a very nostalgic film for Bergman, as much of it is based on his own life experiences in some way. It has moments of pure joy and rejoicing, and moments of cold terror, sadness, and anguish. It's a truly timeless and gripping tale that touches on many aspects of life and our relationships with family and friends, as most Bergman films do. Also like many of his films, it has a surreal, supernatural tone that one must always take into consideration to fully understand the world Bergman has created.
This has been called Bergman's "swan song", even though it certainly wasn't his final effort or film. But it is, in a way, because it is the culmination of decades of Bergman's personal and artistic developments, an ecnore of his best themes and qualities as a writer and director. If you enjoy most of his other works, then "Fanny and Alexander" will definitely capture you in its heart, its bravery, and its wonderment.
It is like the Mahler 9 of films. A masterpiece, bottomless in it's
preferences and filled with great acting like no other movie. But best
of all, like in all the greatest work of art- it really is very simple.
The performance of Ewa Frôling is so captivating, so beliaveble.
In my opinion, one of the very greatest character studies in film. Ever:
Alan Edwall, Known to us young(er) scandinavians as a rather cartoon-cut character from kids TV.. Such an intense portrayal of the vulnerable artist facing the realities of the world outside. Just wishing the real world would reflect his little world of theatre. Any artist will recognize this, and the movie gains painful relevance in Scandinavias current political climate.
It goes beyond words, just see it-again and again.
Fanny and Alexander (1982)
**** (out of 4)
The first two words that popped into my mind as the end credits rolled was masterpiece and epic but in some ways I think both of those words are too small to give proper credit to this film. Originally this was meant to be Bergman's swan song and while I would have been a great film to go out on, I'm glad he eventually returned to the director's chair a couple times. This film, running nearly five hours in its complete form, is certainly one of the most beautiful movies that I've ever seen. The technical side of things are downright brilliant but the incredible screenplay and performances make this one of the greatest achievements ever captured on film. The screenplay offers up so much detail and so much thought on so many topics that it's hard to really make your mind up about the film but I'm sure this is the type of movie that a hundred people could watch and they'd all walk away with different feelings and emotions about what it all meant.
For me personally, I think the film is about everything possible, from life to death to love to religion and most importantly to imagination. The movie tackles all sorts of subjects, which were very familiar to Bergman and that's why I'd call this a greatest hits type of packaging from the director. We have issues dealing with death, which we saw in Cries and Whispers. We have the ideas of religion and what it means via his trilogy including Winter Lights. We have ideas of the theater, which the director hit upon in many of his overlooked gems from the 1970's. We also have the beauty of life and love, which we've seen several times from the master.
On the technical side of things there's a lot to admire here. The visual look is quite striking and breathtaking especially the early sequences with the frozen river. The love how the first third of the movie, with the family together, is shown in very rich and vivid colors that really brings out a warm feeling of family and comfort. The middle stuff with the bishop changes to pale colors, which really brings out the coldness of all the characters during this time. We then shift to the grandmother's house, which is full of spring like colors, which offer up a sense of safety. The cinematography by Sven Nykvist really is something to watch as he perfectly captures every mood, feeling and thought going on within the film. He, like the director, was already considered a master by the time this film was released and this movie just adds to his legendary status.
The performances are among some of the greatest I've ever seen. I think the standout performance of the film belongs to Jan Malmsjo as the evil bishop. If this isn't one of the greatest villains in film history then I'm not sure how you would define the term villain. What really impressed me about Malmsjo is his utter coldness whenever he talks, walks or whenever we simply see him thinking. The boy-faced nature on the outside also makes us, at times, feel for him and want to like him but that coldness and evilness is always right there to remind us what a snake he is. Jarl Kulle is also worth pointing out as the loverboy/brother who has a terrific scene where he squares off against Malmsjo in an attempt to get the children back. The outright anger and frustration the actor shows in this scene is very chilling and one can't help but understand and feel everything he's doing. Ewa Froling is also terrific as Emile and the strength she brings to her character ranks this as one of the greatest performances I've seen from any actress. Bertil Guve is also worth mentioning as Alexander. He doesn't have too much to say but it's rather amazing how much Bergman got out of the young actor just by his facial gestures and body movements.
The screenplay is another thing as beauty as, for the most part, we get all dialogue but the dialogue is so well written that all of the heart, sadness and fear comes from it. There are some rather hard to watch scenes including one involving a cane, which is used to beat on of the children. I couldn't help but jump every time the cane hit the body because the screenplay sets up the evilness of the bishop so well that this scene contains alternate emotions. We also have great talk about the meaning of fact and an illusion, which includes talk of actors and how they react to real situations. There's also a great conversation about the Jewish family, being magicians and what effect this has on their theories of God. Then, there's the religious aspect, which Bergman once again attacks with questions and thoughts about the truth behind a higher being. In reality, I believe this film is about the two kids but mainly everything is seen through the eyes of Alexander. All of the subjects hinted at and talked about throughout the film are from a child's eyes and this is something brave to try from Bergman. The honesty and wild wonder of a child's questions are really, to me, what this film is all about and it's brilliantly done by the great director. There are even sequences with Alexander seeing ghosts with a running theme of if he is really seeing them or if they are just in his head.
What's most amazing is that the film runs five hours yet there isn't a single second of the film where the viewer can get bored. There's so much drama, pain, laughter and fears that this carries the film the entire running time and I really wish the film had gone on another five hours.
This may be one of the most visually beautiful films ever produced; the
supreme "last" achievement from writer/director Ingmar Bergman and his
crew, led by photographer Sven Nykvist. In whatever version you choose,
"Fanny och Alexander" is long; but, the film is worth the time
commitment. It is a masterpiece.
"Fanny och Alexander" starts out being about nothing in particular; an almost cluttered assortment of characters celebrate Christmas 1907. While in evidence, "Fanny" (Pernilla Allwin) and "Alexander" (Bertil Guve) do not seem to be major characters. By the film's end, young Guve's "Alexander" has emerged as the film's leading player; but, each of the other characterizations are memorable. Characters who started out superfluous become funny, scary, poignant, and/or haunting. Yet, everyone seems to belong in the film.
There is a main plot, which creeps up on you. There is no way to describe the story without giving too much away; so, let's just say: A Swedish widow (Ewa Fröling), with two children, marries a Bishop from Hell (Jan Malmsjö). While each performance is remarkable, in its own way, Gun Wållgren (as the Grandmother Ekdahl) must be mentioned alongside those above. The sequences with Gurv and the antique shop residents, crosscut with the Malmsjö's Bishop and his Castle entourage, are especially magical.
********** Fanny och Alexander (12/17/82) Ingmar Bergman ~ Bertil Guve, Ewa Fröling, Gunn Wållgren, Jan Malmsjö
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