I certainly admired the theatrical cut of Fanny and Alexander and thought it a fine film, but for a movie so loved by film buffs, I was wondering what I was missing. Turns out I was missing 124 ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL minutes that are thankfully included in the television version. This extra time is needed as Bergman’s characters are so rich and real that they flourish with more space to breath. So much is going on and so many themes explored that it could have justified being even longer. Ironically, the addition of numbered episodes allows the whole to seem less episodic.
Most important is how the extra time affects the supernatural elements of the story. In the theatrical cut, the magic emanating from the Jacobi household seems like a sharp tonal shift that requires a suspension of disbelief. The television version lays this groundwork much more fully with ghostly visitations and more of a spiritual undertone permeating throughout. Now, when Isac screams and the children’s image appears to the Bishop while they are presumably still it the box, it’s a powerful moment, not a WTF moment.
In a film with nothing but great performances, I was especially struck by Jan Malmsjö’s villainous turn as the Bishop. He invests his character with more than enough menace to make him truly hateful, but he also allows us to see his intelligence and thinking process creating much the same effect as Christoph Waltz in Inglorious Basterds. The contrast of his cold and barren fortress against both the ornate warmth of the Ekdahl household and the puppet filled chaos of Jacobi’s home is a striking as the characters themselves.
Issues of faith, family and theater (known Bergman obsessions) are fully explored with the twist of the child’s eye point of view. There are a lot of balls in the air and not one of them is dropped. The ending speech about the “little world” punctuated by actual babies may indeed be sentimental, but Bergman fully earns the right with this masterpiece.