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10/10
A Real masterpiece
SPOILER: Most of the ideas revealed through mystery by Bergman in Fanny och Alexander have 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, which 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.
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10/10
Bergman's ultimate best
francois chevallier14 February 2006
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...
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10/10
(review of the 5-hour cut) A total, un-abashed work of art that you'll love or hate. I loved it, and it's likely one of the great epics I'll ever see
MisterWhiplash21 November 2004
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 company.

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++
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9/10
Could well lay claims to being the best European film of all time
Keith F. Hatcher28 February 2002
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.
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10/10
"...Anything can happen, anything is possible. Time and space do not exist..."
Galina8 June 2005
"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.
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10/10
Triumphant
ColeSear25 October 2001
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.
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10/10
Not only one of the best Swedish films ever made , one of the best films ever made!!!
anton-617 February 2002
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
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10/10
Absolutely Awe-Inspiring
tgold7814 November 2006
You could call this my opinion of Bergman's Fanny and Alexander...as opposed to a review. I really don't feel the need in describing or summarizing this film. Any review, as I see it, would be pointless. Words just can't convey what makes a truly great movie as good as it is. The best "review" I could give Fanny and Alexander is to just see the damned thing. If you can't sit through it, so be it. But, those who are willing to give it their attention, I promise, will be rewarded continuously through the film's duration. Anyone who sits through the entire film, especially the full-length version, I think, will find it difficult to say that they were bored. More than likely, they will find it easy to say, "That was a damned good movie." I, myself, was surprised. Previous to seeing F&A, I had never seen a film quite this long. I'm glad I did. I'll also throw this in: most film buffs, I think it's safe to say, will always consider Bergman to be the master of gloom. This may be true, but I think Fanny and Alexander proves beyond any doubt that his ability to express the joy that exists in life is every bit as great, and truly refreshing.
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5/10
I'm trying to understand, but...
thomas-laine21 April 2010
Warning: 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.
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9/10
Probably Bergman's best
Daniel Karlsson28 December 2003
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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Life-affirming Bergman.
philipdavies8 May 2003
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 Theatre.

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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5/10
Not obviously the work of a master
revere-722 May 2009
The problem with any great artist is that it becomes easy to rest on one's laurels, become self-indulgent, or settle for mediocrity. After all, the fans will always stick by you.

Fanny and Alexander, Bergman's farewell to the cinema (in more ways than one since it was made for television) is a problematic film - it is a well crafted work, but undistinguished, not nearly as great as some of his past achievements. Can one blame him? Not really - nobody hits a home run every time at bat.

Fanny and Alexander is a long (over 3 hours) Dickensian period piece that lacks much of the trademark Bergman touches. It's well made, but not significantly different from many historical melodramas and made-for-TV mini-series' that were the hallmark of U.S. broadcast television in the 1980s. The story primarily deals with two young siblings and their trials and tribulations following the death of their father. Really it's mostly about the boy, Alexander, as his sister, Fanny is pretty much an ominpresent non-entity in the proceedings. There are also a lot of dead-end subplots featuring the children's aunts, uncles, and other relatives. And, save for a few detours into the metaphysical (mostly in the last 10 minutes), there is little to distinguish it from a run-of-the-mill Victorian soap opera.

The cast - all of them - turn in fine performances, and while I can't really recommend this film whole-heartedly, I really can't knock it either. Perhaps a good time-passer if you are bedridden and need a 3 hour diversion.
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7/10
Underwhelming, given its reputation
The_Cake_of_Roth6 February 2015
Warning: Spoilers
I've seen a good amount of Bergman's films - I love Persona, Cries and Whispers, Scenes From A Marriage, and the Virgin Spring in particular - but this is the first one I've watched where I kind of reacted with a shrug upon finishing it. I didn't dislike it exactly, but the whole thing seemed to evaporate from memory afterwards and didn't leave a lasting impression on me like some of his other films.

This seems to be one of those films where I can appreciate and admire many things about it: the performances, the elaborate production design, costumes, the ambition and scope ... but without any of it having any great effect.

I suppose part of my problem with it was that I felt it was somewhat uneven and lacking in focus. It's supposed to be from the point of view of a young boy, but I never felt like we were ever following him - his character only really becomes of importance in the second act ... the rest of the time, he seems to only wander into the narrative from time to time as if he were a secondary character. Because of this, I never felt like I knew him as a character or the nature of his relationship with the father before he died ... as a result, Alexander's pain and preoccupation with death/ghosts/visions never felt earned and just seemed contrived and out of place.

The first act reminded of the first third of the Deer Hunter where it's sort of a panoramic portrait of a close-knit group of people - this was interesting to me and I enjoyed the interaction between many of the characters ... but these relationships become minor subplots of little consequence or are left by the wayside altogether. So it's kind of like what's the point of introducing these narrative strands if they are not going to be developed any further? Basically, the film felt like Bergman had bitten off more than he could chew and wanted to throw everything he could into this story of a family (which was intended as his swan song), with several narrative strands that lack pay off or development - they're of little consequence and end up distracting from the subsequent focus of the narrative (the mother's marriage to the bishop).

The second act of the film was the most compelling for me: the conflict between the bishop and Alexander ... but this shift of focus was jarring because after the first act, I felt like we get very little of the rest of the family. It's as if Bergman really didn't know what he wanted this movie to be: a tapestry of a family that chronicles each member, a coming of age story focusing on the child, a smaller domestic melodrama with an authoritarian bishop parental figure ...

Overall, I suppose my main problem with the film was how Bergman chose to structure the narrative, which I felt was too broadly outlined ... which resulted in something very bloated and ponderous. Still enjoyed much of it, but not something I see myself revisiting anytime soon.
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1/10
What a bunch of crap...
dan_g_reynolds4 August 2007
Just saw this 5hr+ torture on TV yesterday. Having heard so much about this movie for so many years, by so many people, I expected at least something solid, but no. This movie sucks in every possible respect.

It is far too long. Long and utterly pointless scenes, like the one where the theatrical company is rehearsing Hamlet, add nothing to further the movie.

The scenography is a joke. Overdriven and not at all well composed. Except perhaps at the odd home of the Jew. I know the movie was lauded for precisely its scenography, but that was highly undeserved.

The acting isn't much better. The only exception being Jarl Kulle, the bearded bonvivant who laid all those women.

The cutting of the movie is, what? Nonexistent. Ingmar Bergman must have been so in love with this deformed monster of a movie he couldn't bring himself to cut away much from it.

So what's it all about? Nothing. There's no story, no glue holding it all together, no point.

We're offered one scene where the family is preparing for and celebrating Christmas. A funeral, a marriage ceremony, a baptism fiest. Standard Hollywood-style fillers when the author has nothing much to say. A house tyrant in the form of a bishop and a couple of entirely uninteresting intercourses.

The title is somewhat misleading. The Fanny character is close to being just a cameo. Alexander is a 9yo boy who most of the time looks and acts like a zombie. And he's generally completely uninteresting.

For people who aren't Swedes, a couple of explanations to what the movie *really* is about.

Sweden is a strange mix of a socialist and fascist society. The fascist part is how the economic system is set up. In Sweden, most of your economic dealings are with the State. Our tax burden is somewhere around 85%, so normal people must apply for various hand-outs from the State and the commune they live in. Tax cheating and evasion are very common. And the authorities silently let people get away with it. That way no one in the country has a clean nose and no one can point the finger to those in power, who steal and cheat the most.

If you're a company, cuddling up to your commune and/or State often means you'll get tax breaks, subventioned loans, generous zoning laws etc. And that's nice. But if you for some reason DON'T cuddle up, or rather DON'T suck up, you'll be sabotaged by the authorities on every level of your dealing with them.

Which brings us to the great parasitic layer of society called "artists" and other euphemisms for privileged upper-class or upper middle class people who aren't talented enough, or are too lazy, to do some productive work.

There is only one single employer and buyer for everything that has something to do with "art" in Sweden, the State. Whether you're a painter, sculptor, or film maker, the State is your breastfeeding Mother. The State pays you, finances your projects, sells your name abroad etc. So every artist in Sweden must be utterly politically correct in order to not infuriate Mother.

The problem here is that these same undeserving so called "artists" don't want to accept the reality of what they are, useless parasites for whose "work" nobody cares, except the State comissions and other useless parasites of the same ilk. They think of themselves as brave fighters, in a very similar way to that Spanish knight, don Quixote.

The only way that these people can show some supposed bravery is to strike at a target that the State allows them to strike at.

So what are those allowed targets to shoot at? This movie shows us some of those targets:

The Protestand Church and Christianity in general. Burgeois traditions. Male sexuality. Accountability for one's actions, if the person in question is a woman or otherwise privileged person.

What most people won't realize about this movie is that everything about it is fake. Including the supposed evil of the targets listed above.

The Protestant Church in Sweden has for a long time now been so meek and watered down that it has become a bleak shadow of nothingness. You will certainly not find a bishop or priest that even remotely resembles the one portrayed in the movie. And that was even true when the movie was made (1982) and perhaps some 40 years before.

Burgeois traditions are entirely wiped out in Sweden. Even old money has gotten rid of old traditions. Rich people in Sweden aren't interested in culture. They drink beer and watch horse races. But there is a great movement of wannabes. People who are of humble origins but who speak in a certain manner as to make you believe they're old money or old noble families but just without the money. Many times they invent behaviour and traditions for themselves that they've read about or have seen in movies like this one.

Male sexuality in Sweden is a joke. The men here are so feminized that it is a wonder they've at all kept the dangling male attributes between their legs.

In Sweden women are never accountable for their actions. If she's a pedophile, like the redhaired servant girl in the movie almost appears to be, sleeping together with a 9yo boy, that's always, without one single exception, "because her father used her" when she was a child herself. Or an uncle, or a neighbor, etc.

My first thought when I saw this movie was "We are in deep trouble". By "we" I was of course thinking of Swedish society.
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10/10
An Ingmar Bergman Masterpiece. One of the Greatest Films Ever Made!
tony mcarea13 October 2006
Warning: Spoilers
There are so many things I want to say about this film that I don't even know where to begin. I guess I'll start by saying that this has been the shortest 5 hours I've spent watching a film. At first I had planned to watch it in parts as the film is divided in acts, but I was so instantly taken, engrossed and fascinated, that I just felt like watching the whole thing in one sitting. I know that a 5-hour long film can sound very intimidating and exhausting, but the film is specifically divided in 5 distinguishable acts that make it more digestible, and believe me, it's so absorbing that you will barely notice you spent all that time watching it; it's that good. I've skimmed through the 3-hour theatrical version, and while it is a great film, some of my favorite parts are either shortened or completely cut from the film, which for me, lessens the impact the whole 5-hour extended TV version has. Both versions work, of course, but if you want to get a greater understanding of Bergman's vision, I totally recommend the extended version.

Now onto the film itself. What can I say? It's magnificent. A grand, rich and glorious tapestry of life, family, love, hate, imagination, art, fantasy, reality, religion, magic, death, faith, spirituality, God, despair, redemption, youth, innocence, maturity, old age and the supernatural. Fanny and Alexander is all of these things and even more. I don't want to go into much plot detail, but point out what I liked so much about the film by mentioning some of my favorite scenes and commenting on them. And in this film there are plenty. Rarely I've felt the sense of familial warmth and love in a film or elsewhere as I have with Fanny and Alexander. The first act shows us a Christmas dinner family celebration, and it is instantly intoxicating and beguiling, and you're instantly drawn to these flawed-yet-loving and caring characters that constitute this large, happy family and Bergman's direction is so vivid that you totally feel the joy in sharing and the affection and love. One of my favorite scenes in this part is Oscar's (the family patriarch and owner of the family theater) heartfelt and candid speech about the importance of the theater, this "little world" as it is referred to, and how art can reflect the "big world" and help us have a greater endurance during bad times. This theme is more thoroughly explored in an enchanting and beautiful scene in which Oscar explains to Fanny and Alexander through the simple story of a chair how art is connected to life, how important and essential art is in enriching our lives, helping us have a deeper awareness and appreciation of the world at large, and how there is more to what meets the eye, an inner life lying underneath the surface of things. Bergman was raised within a very strict and oppressive family, and I'm pretty sure that the Ekdahls is the kind of family (Loving, supportive, encouraging, freethinkers) he would've liked to be raised in. I echo his (likely) sentiment. Likewise, if I got a profound sense of love and family in the first act, when tragedy strikes in the second act, I got a great sense of suffering and despair. One of the most strikingly moving scenes in the film involves Oscar's wife, Emilie, giving these primal, animal cries of grief over her dead husband; the scene is simply heart-wrenching. Similarly engrossing, is the open and penetrating conversation between Emilie and the bishop about her faith and her spiritual confusion and longing. But in the third and fourth acts is when the characters' resilience are really put to the test. None of the pain, humiliation and the frailty of the human heart throughout the film is better illustrated in a scene of tremendous impact in which Alexander is severely punished by the bishop and Fanny has no other option but to stand and watch as her brother is being physically abused, only moments later to see her defiantly turn down the bishop's affections. Another favorite scene during this act is Helena's - the family matriarch - beautiful and eloquent soliloquy to her son Oscar about the joys and pains in life, the futility of fighting against its forces and just living it as it comes. It is what it is. Another standout is Isak Jacobi's (a family friend and magician) metaphorical story that encapsulates the importance and at the same time the futility of searching for meaning in life. Some of the film's most intriguing, revealing and fantastical moments are in this act. In what's probably the greatest moment in a film full of great moments, is Alexander's encounter with a mysterious character named Ismael. I think this scene is the climax of the film as it brings closure to Alexander's arch. There's also a deep sense of the supernatural as it is suggested that everything, fantasy and reality, the logical and unexplainable, the material and the ethereal, the good and even the bad, is a manifestation of God. I feel that with those statements, Bergman is telling us that he probably managed to finally exorcise the demons that had been haunting him throughout his life, or at least come to terms with them, as his on screen alter ego Alexander has as well. All of this told, detailed and presented with the skill of a master storyteller.

I was fully enraptured by this film. I love the way it beautifully conveyed the relevance of art and imagination and how they're actually essential for humanity. I loved how it showed life in all its joyful, fantastical, realistic, tragic, resigned and ultimately hopeful glory. I loved its sense of completeness yet also leaving the viewer with an air of mystery that implies the endless possibilities of life. A masterpiece and easily one of my favorite films ever.
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6/10
Sumptuous production of some of Bergman's favorite themes - but far too disjointed - and where the hell is Fanny?!
ozjeppe9 August 2010
This is Ingmar Bergman's semi-autobiographical Life and Times of wealthy theater family Ekdahl in 1907 Uppsala, mainly told from the eyes of young Alexander as his mother is widowed, remarries a harsh bishop, and moves into his church estate with both the children. A fairly gripping saga, gorgeously photographed and sumptuously produced, with marvelous performances from Malmsjö and Wållgren... but mostly a more artistic gem to admirably behold rather than be moved by and involved in. Considered a masterpiece by many, not by me. Why?

Well, I caught the 188 min' version, and many bits - although enjoyable on their own, such as Kulle's monologues and erotic shenanigans - seem to be from completely different films altogether in tone, patched up to a big quilt with unfitting seams, in contrasting the children's ghastly torment of their stepfather (Alexander's head-to-head battles of will with him IS a highlight), with the unrelated, more easy-going content from the family's head estate. The relatives fates from the first act are unresolved and completely detached from the remaining main story: Emilie, her failed re-marriage and the children's struggle. They all honestly don't evoke terribly much emotional sympathy because we don't really get to know them; for example, Alexander misses his dead father and hates his stepfather... and that's basically all. And we also really have no other sign of the family's togetherness than their spoken confirmations, which contribute to this film's most disjointed, highly inconsistent feel with quite a few leaps in the storyline. Perhaps the TV-series version is more cohesive?

Bergman's love for the theater is of course ubiquitous, both in establishing the family's relation to it, as well as much of the overly theatrical acting/line delivery, heavily metaphysical & religious symbolism and solemn theme presentation (with a nod to August Strindberg at the end). That style blend is of course a matter of preference, and I'm not a huge fan of it, presented this way (NOTE: this is my third Bergman altogether). And one major question truly arises: where the hell is Fanny in this movie? A character with her name in the title, has no impact on anything whatsoever in a story spanning 3 hours... how can that be?

6 out of 10 from Ozjeppe
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5/10
The Emporer has no clothes!
dadeeo4412 January 2011
There, its been said. Now viewers can be honest about this disjointed, inconsistently written, poorly edited, mediocre film. To be fair though, the acting, set designs, and cinematography were high points. Skimming some of the IMDb reviews before seeing this film, I came across comments like, "Every frame a Rembrandt", "triumphant", "Bergmans swan song is his ultimate masterpiece", "could be the best European film of all time". i just wish I read some of the reviews with less than nine or ten stars before I invested over three(!) hours on it. With a Metascore of 100, apparently no critic wants to be criticized for 'not getting it', for not being able to appreciate the artfulness of this mess. But if you don't derive your paycheck from reviews, you don't have to deceive yourself or pretend to like it. Be real and and admit it was just OK. And by the way; Seven Samurai was horrible. Come on, you know its true!
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6/10
A decent portrait of an era, but too slow and too long
Bene Cumb3 September 2012
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.
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10/10
Simply Perfect Film-making
Toronto-328 March 2005
This is, without a doubt, the single most perfect film ever made. No other film has ever left me feeling as fulfilled as Fanny and Alexander. It unfolds like a rich novel, full of multi-dimensional characters, and takes the viewer on a journey of discovery -- of love, loss, laughter, despair, God, truth, and the supernatural.

This film is haunting and beautiful, more finely detailed, photographed and acted than any film I have ever seen.

These were my thoughts upon seeing the 3-hour theatrical version for the first (and second, and third...) time in the mid-'80s. I was so enthralled by this movie that I was hesitant to see the recent Criterion release of the full 5-hour-plus version originally filmed for Swedish television. I was worried I would be disappointed or that my all-time favourite film would somehow be diminished.

I could not have been more wrong. The full 312-minute version of Fanny and Alexander is even more rich, more haunting, more compelling, more insightful and more emotionally impactful than the theatrical version. It is more novelesque, and treats the viewer to the most multi-dimensional characters ever put to film, and with some of the best performances ever captured. It is a great work of film art and storytelling, with intricacies never realized before or since, made with incredible love and determination by the two most talented filmmakers ever to treat us with their skills -- Ingmar Bergman and Sven Nykvist.

THE masterpiece.
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10/10
A true masterpiece of epic proportions with stunning cinematography and sumptuous set
KobusAdAstra28 August 2016
We are introduced to a large, well-to-do family, as seen through the eyes of young Alexander: Helena Ekdahl, his regally-looking grandmother and matriarch, who tries to keep the family together, his uncles, philandering Gustav Adolf and Carl, who continually has financial problems. Then Alexander's younger sister, Fanny, and their father, Oscar and mother, Emilie. Both their parents are actors (and some of the other family members too), whilst Oscar also works as director of the acting company. A large and generally happy family, as we see in hauntingly beautifully filmed Christmas scenes.

Things change for the worse when Oscar suffers a stroke and passes away. Emilie manages the performing company for a year and then decides to withdraw from it. She is lonely and falls in love with the local bishop, Edvard, who conducted Oscar's funeral service. They get married and she moves to his household with the kids. They were in for a rude shock. They had to leave everything 'worldly' behind, no toys, their beloved books, or fancy clothes. The contrast with their previous lavish and luxury lifestyle and their new life behind cold, unadorned thick walls with bars in front of the windows, couldn't be more pronounced. In their new and austere, depressing household they had to follow strict new rules, something the kids were never subjected to. Furthermore they had to share the house with Edvard's vicious spinster sister, meddling mother and bed-ridden aunt.

Alexander has a lively imagination and sometimes makes up stories, or tells fibs. He has a rebellious streak, too, and clashes with his stepfather. As a result he is caned and locked up alone in the cold attic. It seems as if Emilie is powerless, not knowing what to do to help the kids, entranced by the charismatic Edvard.

The grandmother comes to learn of the kids' hardships; that they were practically being held prison, and decides to do something about it. But it is not going to be easy; the bishop is a very powerful and influential man...

I watched the full, uncut and original version (part of the excellent 'The Criterion Collection'), nearly 5 hours long. (I also have the shorter theatrical version, but will leave that for another day.) It's length did not bother me in the least, and that should be a good indication of the quality of the film.

The wonderful cinematography, music score, lavish sets and costumes are all out of this world. And particularly so the outstanding cast. All the actors were excellent, but mention must be made of the remarkable performances of Ewa Fröhling (Emilie), Gun Wållgren (the grandmother) and Bertil Guve (Alexander). And then the clever story-line, fluctuating between the real world and the acted world, the make-believe world. "On a flimsy framework of reality, the imagination spins, weaving new patterns."

In my view 'Fanny and Alexander' is one of the best films I have ever seen. 10/10.
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10/10
Shaped my visual vocabulary
gummo_rabbit25 January 2016
Ever since my first love handed me a worn VHS tape with the theatrical version of 'Fanny and Alexander' on it, saying: "This is you, this is your story", I became wildly curious to see it, as well as flattered by being introduced to a masterpiece in such a way. Of course, the tape was so worn from multiple viewings that by the time I got round to it I couldn't watch it properly. It took me a couple of years before I finally saw it in a cinema, and I came outside just reeling. Now, more than ten years later, having grown familiar with the TV version as well, I am still in awe.

This week I am watching the TV version (on my Criterion DVD), one episode at a time. The Prologue alone just blew me away. Visually, it is as precise and complete as it gets; I wouldn't hesitate to say it touches perfection. I find it so powerful in the way it treats its themes - most notably the power of imagination in childhood - that most scenes have become an archetype in my personal visual vocabulary. I think that's the mark of truly great art.

My first love and I lost touch long ago; I could never thank him enough for handing me this treasure.
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10/10
Perhaps the Greatest Film Ever Made
he_hate_me-117 April 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I absolutely detest making distinctions like this, but I would rate this the best movie of all time purely on the way it affected me. Viewing this film for the first time left me with the feeling that I would never again experience the world in quite the same way. The second time only deepened my appreciation for the simplicity of the story and the depth and precision of every detail. The third time I viewed the five hour Swedish Television version and realized that I was watching the equivalent of a Tolstoy novel on film.

The highest compliment I can pay to this movie is that in being a child of the eighties, an adolescent and young adult in the 90's, and well, now venturing towards middle age in this young century, few works of media or "art" escape my mind's deconstruction of them, or my generation's greatest blessing (or greatest curse:) a very well developed sense of irony.

Fanny and Alexander (along with a few of Bergman's other films including 'The Virgin Spring" and "Wild Strawberries") is the exception to this rule. There is no way to simply break down how Bergman casts the spell he does. His work gathers you in, completely envelopes you, and at the same time is utterly impenetrable to any form of rational criticism. In the end you are left with a pure emotional response to what you just experienced with little idea of how Bergman took you to that place. You believe television, media, advertising, the constant bombardment of images into your brain has desensitized you to pain, agony, regret, violence, disappointment, dreams, longings and questions of God and death, and then Bergman gets a hold of you. I can only say this work is what one would call truly "spiritual" art, and Bergman's films are the only place I have ever experienced this phenomena.

If cinema is the closest we have to a truly "magical" experience, then Bergman is and perhaps forever will be the greatest magician of them all. Fanny and Alexander should be preserved along with the works of the greatest masters of art in any medium. Every time I see this film, no matter what state of mind I'm in, it somehow makes me fall in love with movies and life all over again.

Thank you, Mr. Bergman, for spending your life sharing your dreams, visions and nightmares with us. You have made this world an infinitely richer place for your efforts.
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6/10
The family through a glass darkly
ellkew15 June 2001
This film is cinema as poetry and moves along like a wonderful dream. I am fond of stories centred around families anyway but this takes the family and explores many different corners of how you are affected by your kin. All this of course happens through the eyes of two small children though mainly Alexander. It contains so many moments of sheer emotion, my favourites being the confrontation between the two brothers and the bishop, the appearance of God and the father to the boy and the end scene. A great deal of symbolism peppers the film and Bergman takes hold of the material with such expertise that one cannot turn away at any point. This film is a real treasure and I advise anyone to watch it and love it as the latter comes very easily. I know that Bergman has a reputation for being heavy handed (is this a crime?) but this film is a lyrical song to the family and should be compulsive viewing. The fact that this film is over four hours is irrelevant, as this is often the first thing people comment on when the title is mentioned. Go and see this film today as it is quite remarkable.
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I will see this again
cloverflowers16 June 2006
I need to see this again, if only to get a better look at the Grandmother's house. I loved this film on so many levels - I liked the ideas presented in the movie and all that but mostly I loved staring into their lovely faces and taking in all the interiors. Oh heck, the exteriors too, now that I think of it. It's the best kind of movie, there's so much to see, to think about, to feel and to experience. And to admire.

I like it that it's a little loopy and fantastic, which usually turns me off completely in movies and literature because when the creator trots out fantastic elements I almost always feel like they're over reaching and could have used ordinary life as a vehicle of expression but are too lazy. It's like they want to underline it: big idea folks! Don't miss it. IB takes a bunch of schlocky devices and proves that in the right hands, they all can work: the imagining of the fire, for instance, or the stark face off of good and evil, or the dangerous homosexual, the heavy handed symbolism, the play within a play. All corny elements we've seen too much of but fresh and compelling in this picture, even after 25 years. In fact, I was reminded again and again of my childhood and how I had first encountered many ideas. What did I think of Hamlet when I was forced to read it in the 7th grade? What did I think about life when I was forced to confront it with my developing brain? Have I lived up to my ideals? The best movies change you. This one has certainly given my a new standard for domestic beauty. I'm going to put a little lace on my sideboard today and cut some flowers. My little world.
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3/10
Much ado about nothing
Wim Boeren25 August 2015
Warning: Spoilers
In Fanny & Alexander, those two characters are basically side-characters. Or at least they feel that way because I still have no idea who they are. The same can be said about everyone else. Even though the viewer never really gets an idea who all these people are, we're supposed to care that one man bursts into a depressing rant all of a sudden, another man dies, a woman starts screaming in the middle of the night, the widow finds "true love" about 5 minutes later, a boy is haunted by his dead father... The movie is full of these events that have an extremely high impact on the young minds of these two children. But why should I really care when those two children are presented as empty shells throughout the whole movie? And why should I care when the whole movie is depressing?
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