It would make some sense to bisect the world of Ingmar Bergman. On the one hand: the world of theatre, fraternity, and celebration. On the other hand: the austere / severe condition of prostration before a silent God in a world where people quietly torture one another. While Bergman's work in general grew more severe as time went on, FANNY AND ALEXANDER comes out swinging on the side of happiness and good faith.
The theatrical edition omits two of my favourite scenes. If I think of the film without them, the fantastical elements become suppressed, and perhaps it is a more bleak film. Therefore, I believe Bergman meant the TV version to be the definitive. I am in love with this movie.
this is definitely bergman's best film and I'm really sad that it's not the one I love the most. the first episode was so amazing to me that I was waiting for that to come back in the following acts, and, when it did, I didn't care much for it. though it doesn't drag on, it felt to me like it did. but it's still amazing - even if they do overuse the theater motif, its meta commentary comes from a really nice place.
I definitely wouldn't say this is Bergman's best film. There's a LOT of narrative dead space in the first half before Edvard comes into the story properly, Fanny is basically a non-entity, and Carl's situation with his wife is never resolved. In spite of those issues and its issue with focus, Bergman's ability to evoke, abstractly, remains impressive as ever. But he has made more explosive, effecting films before.
There are few films that attempt to bring such huge scope and depth to the screen, and fewer that pull it off as masterfully as this. It was originally intended to be Bergman’s final film, and if it ended up being so I can’t think of a better way to end a career. The film captures all of life, birth to death, and a possible afterlife. It knows how to see the world through the eyes of the very young and the very old.