Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 4/23/07 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.
Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman, Fanny och Alexander tells the story of two kids dealing with the death of their father as well as their mother's marriage to a bishop. A complex story about family dynamics and the changes from the observation of children in the early 20th Century reveals Bergman's direction style at its peak. Featuring a huge cast that includes regulars Harriet Andersson, Erland Josephson, and Gunnar Bjornstrand in a cameo. Fanny och Alexander is a sprawling, haunting masterpiece from Ingmar Bergman.
At a small Swedish town in Christmas 1907 is the rich Edkdahl family led by a retired actress named Helena (Gunn Wallgren). With a large family that consists of three songs in the philandering Gustav Adolf (Jarl Kulle), failed professor Carl (Borje Ahlstedt), and the success theater owner/actor Oscar (Alland Edwall), they all live happily as another play is held that features Oscar's wife Emilie (Ewa Froling) as their kids in the 10-year old Alexander (Bertil Guve) and the 7-year old Fanny (Pernilla Allwin) look on for the Xmas holidays with their cousins and servants including the young maid Maj (Pernilla August). Helena also invites her late husband's Jewish friend Isak Jacobi (Erland Josephson) whom her grandchildren love as the Edkdahl's life seems perfect despite a few things. Then a few months later, Oscar falls ill as the family dynamic changes as the young Alexander is in shock as he watches his father on his deathbed during these final moments.
Following Oscar's passing, Emilie gains a new suitor in a handsome bishop named Edvard (Jan Malmsjo) who wants to give Emilie, Alexander, and Fanny a new life to the surprise of Helena and the rest of the family. Forced to leave the home they had loved along with the family that has cared for them, Emilie and the children move to Edvard's home near the sea that is filled with crosses little bits of furniture and paintings. With Edvard's strict sister Henrietta (Kerstin Tidelius), their immobile aunt Blenda (Marianne Aminoff), and a maid named Justina (Harriet Andersson), the lives of Emilie and the children take a dark turn with Edvard being very hard on Alexander. The Ekdahls go into a family crisis when Helena learns that Gustav had impregnated Maj while starts to see Oscar's ghost as well.
Trapped in Edvard's home and Emilie becoming pregnant, Emilie and the kids want to return to their old home as Helena's attempts to bribe Edvard failed. After learning about the abuse that Alexander has to suffer from Edvard, she reaches out to Helena again who decides to take some action with the help of Isak with the help of his nephew Aron (Mats Bergman). The ordeal would prove to be a trying moment for the Ekdahls as they yearn for a new beginning though it wouldn't be easy considering the events that impacted Fanny and Alexander.
A more personal work than some of the earlier films that Bergman made, the film is really about family, death, and faith in of complexities and spirit. Even the question of existence and how death changes the family dynamics in the most unexpected times into something that marks a transition for the Ekdahls. Bergman doesn't give answers into existentialism or anything but rather explore dynamics, relationships, and how spirituality works in mysterious ways. While the film might be slow to some audiences, even in the first hour. It's only to serve on what Bergman is trying to do which is to have the audience to get to know this unique family known as the Ekdahls. They're flawed, they don't always do the right things, and sometimes they're badly mistreated. Yet, it's a family that audiences can relate to for those flaws and how they love each other and spend time during this holiday where everyone comes together. It's in the first act where Bergman doesn't exactly tell the story but get people to relate to these fully-realized characters in all of their glory.
Then the mood of the film changes and the real story finally begins with the second act by an act of death and transition. The scene of Oscar in his deathbed surrounded by his wife, mother, and children is one of the most heartbreaking scenes to watch. Even to see Alexander's reaction in this and the funeral march as he's comforted by Fanny as he isn't sure how to respond. Even as they see the ghost of their father later on, they know that things are changing but don't know what's going to happen. When the bishop Edvard arrives into the story, Bergman is aware that the audiences will know something bad will happen. Bergman's script definitely sets a momentum of what is to come as once Emilie and the children arrive at Edvard's home. The mood and look of the film definitely changes. Even the Ekdahls home, full of life and color, feels amiss in something.
By the third act when Emilie and the children struggle for freedom, the aftermath is complex. After everything the family has gone through, not everyone will believe everything has gone back to normal. Even through the mind of Alexander during his encounter with Isak's nephew Ismael (Stina Ekblad) in a haunting scene. While Bergman's script reveals characters going through the changes in their life and how spirituality plays into their lives. It's in Bergman's eerie, observant, and atmospheric direction that really drives the film in its unique structure and storytelling. The look and feel of the film changes through each act to let the audience know where they at and how to respond. Even in some of the film's haunting moments, Bergman captures its dread and horror simply through its emotions. It's in the direction that Bergman really holds the film together in all of its entrancing and dramatic moments.
Longtime cinematographer Sven Nykvist helps Bergman in bringing a unique vision to each act of the film. In one of the rare Bergman films in color, Nykvist's enchanting photography really brings life to the film. From the lighting and colors in the first act, the camera work is amazing and wide open with its lenses and movements. In the second act, it's grayer and there's very little light from the windows as the mood is darker with more shadows and in the Ekdahls, the artificial look starts to show with the colors still being white but lifeless. In the scene of the Jacobi home, the look of the film is even more intimate to reveal the world Fanny and Alexander are living with its puppets and darker lighting to reveal this new sense of intimacy and shelter. If Bergman's direction is given any amount of magic, it's through the amazing work of his late cinematographer Sven Nykvist.
Art director Susanne Lingheim and set decorator Anna Asp create some exquisite sets on the film's interior settings. Notably the rich colors of green, red, and earthy colors to convey the atmosphere of the Ekdahls that is contrasted to the grayish look of Edvard's home. Even the home of Jacobi is great with its array of glass objects and most of all, the puppets with help from special effects supervisor Bengt Lundgren. Costume designer Marik Vos-Lundh does some amazing work in bringing life to the costumes from the dresses filled with array of colors that would match the look of the homes the characters are in. The look of the clothes are breathtaking that complements the art direction as well as Nykvist's photography.
Editor Sylvia Ingemarsson does some great work in the film's cutting which is given an elliptical pace to build the momentum. The film also works on the perspective cuts as well as fade-outs to close each act or scene. The editing works to convey the emotions of the film. Sound mixers Bjorn Gunnarson, Lars Liljeholm, Bo Persson, and Owe Svensson also do great work in conveying the different atmospheres of the environment the characters live in. To the intimacy of the Ekdahl homes to the horror surrounding Edvard's home. Music composer Daniel Bell creates an amazingly rich score that captures each sequence of joy and sadness. Bell's orchestral arrangements reveal the sense of dread and tension that is surrounded in the second act while having wonderfully melodic textures to convey the richness in the first.
Finally, there's the film's large cast. Featuring small performances from then unknown actors like Lena Olin as one of the Ekdahl's maids and Peter Stormare as one of Jacobi's men. The film also includes other small but memorable performances from Kristina Adolphson, Majlis Granlund, and Svea Holst as the loyal Ekdahl maids, Anna Bergman and Bergman regular Gunnar Bjornstrand in small cameos as theater patrons, Marianne Aminoff as Edvard's sick aunt Blenda, and Maria Granlund as Gustav's daughter Petra. In the role of Ekdahl's nephews, Mats Bergman is great as the charming, puppet-loving Aron while actress Stina Ekbald gives a haunting performance as Aron's psychic brother Ismael. Kerstin Tidelius is great as the strict, intimidating Henrietta while Bergman regular Harriet Andersson is also amazing as Justina, Edvard's spy who is shady and complex in retrieving some information from Alexander.
Borje Ahlstedt is excellent as the frustrated Carl who doesn't seem to be loved as much as his other brothers while Christina Schollin is great as his wife who tries to be supportive despite the contempt she receives from his family. Jarl Kulle is great as the fun, loving, philandering Gustav Adolf who seems to love a lot of women including the maid Maj while trying to maintain the role as the man of the house after his brother Oscar died. Mona Malm is also good as Gustav's wife Alma who understands her husband's philandering but knows it will always get the best of him. Pernilla August, known to American filmgoers as Shmi Skywalker of the Star Wars prequels, is great as the maid Maj who loves Alexander and is given a chance to lead a life but has trouble seeking her own individualism without hurting anyone.
Bergman regular Erland Josephson is great as the elderly yet magical Isak Jacobi who brings companionship to the widowed Helena while using magic to help out the children in their escape. Gunn Wallgren is great as the family’s leading patriarch Helena who is essentially, the glue of the family who keeps everyone together and on-line while being the one to comfort them and knowing what value family has. Allan Edwall is great as Oscar, the loving father who had it all until his death when he's forced to see things go wrong after his death including a heartbreaking scene with his mother about what happened. Jan Malmsjo is also great as the disciplined bishop Edvard who may seem charming and loving but underneath is a man who has dark intentions in ways of breaking Alexander's spirit. Ewa Froling is also good as Emilie, the wife who lost the love of her life only to be desperate for a new love. Froling’s performance is excellent in its development from being a desperate woman to someone trying to gain freedom and ends up playing a new role.
In the respective title roles of Fanny and Alexander, Pernilla Allwin and Bertil Guve are great in the performances they give. While Allwin doesn't have a lot of scenes in the film, her character is importance as the observer of all and like her grandmother, carries a unique sense of strength and comfort to her older brother. Allwin's performance is subdued and entrancing for someone of that age as it's one of the great performances captured on film. Bertil Guve is amazing as Alexander with the way he surrounds himself in this life he knew. When he's forced to make new changes, Guve's natural performance reveals the pain of the changes and how he's nearly broken down by his stepfather. Even when he's forced to confront his own father’s death, he has trouble understanding things revealing his anger and dissolution towards God. It's these performances where the heart of the film lies.
While Fanny och Alexander isn't as plot-driven or heavy as other, earlier films, it's still one of Ingmar Bergman's masterpieces. Anyone who wants to see an intelligent yet enduring film about family will enjoy this. While it may be slow at first, it pays off right in the middle and towards the end. For anyone wanting to see a great film by Ingmar Bergman or a magical family film, Fanny och Alexander is the film to see.
Ingmar Bergman Films: (Crisis) - (It Rains on Our Love) - (A Ship to India) - (Music in Darkness) - (Port of Call) - (Prison) - (Thirst (1949 film)) - (To Joy) - (This Can't Happen Here) - (Summer Interlude) - Secrets of Women - Summer with Monika - Sawdust and Tinsel - A Lesson in Love - Dreams (1955 film) - Smiles of a Summer Night - The Seventh Seal - (Mr. Sleeman is Coming) - Wild Strawberries - (The Venitian) - (Brink of Life) - (Rabies) - The Magician - The Virgin Spring - The Devil's Eye - Through a Glass Darkly - Winter Light - The Silence - All These Women - Persona - (Stimulantia-Daniel) - Hour of the Wolf - (Shame (1968 film) - (The Rite) - The Passion of Anna - (The Touch) - Cries & Whispers - Scenes from a Marriage - (The Magic Flute) - (Face to Face) - (The Serpent's Egg) - Autumn Sonata - From the Life of the Marionettes - (After the Rehearsal) - (The Blessed Ones) - (In the Presence of a Clown) - (The Image Makers) - Saraband
© thevoid99 2011
I have to admit that I have not seen the full version of this yet. I recently got the Criterion Blu-Ray so I'll hopefully be watching it sometime soon.
Merry Christmas Steven!
I only seen the theatrical version as well. I really want the entire box set of that film and all Bergman Criterion DVDs. Merry Xmas.
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