Through the eyes of sister and brother Fanny and Alexander Ekdahl, the many ups-and-downs of the Ekdahl family at the turn-of-the-twentieth-century are put on display. Bergman intended it as his swan song, and it’s the director’s warmest and most autobiographical film. Winner of four Academy Awards.
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With the memory of the full length TV version still ingrained in my head (even though I only saw it once, years ago), I was struck by how much more rushed the theatrical cut is: plot points are abrupt, soliloquies and dream sequences are gone, some characters are less nuanced, others seem to have all but disappeared. The story really needs 5 hours to stretch out and breathe. But even in half it's still a masterpiece.
Ghosts and poison and gout, oh my! Frankly, as a Bergman agnostic I could happily skip the largely pointless events of the first act, and step instead into the more personal, atmospheric, Shakespearean melodrama that follows the death of the patriarch. Fanny barely registers, but the blank, milquetoast Alexander uses The Shining to right wrongs and restore the Ekdahl family to its gluttonous, flatulent peak.
I'm yet to see most of Bergman's filmography so I can't say if this represents a proper farewell or not. But it did look like an opulent piece of work, with spaces and characters built with meticulous attention to detail. The film defies a classification by genre, as it mixes in very different elements and situations during the 3-hour running time, sometimes resulting in a lack of focus. But yes, it's a lovely story.
It's a good thing this wasn't my first Bergman, because the bar would have been set immeasurably high. A beautiful, epic fairy tale, and I don't think I can name another film which has made me feel a wider variety of emotions. Bergman's best, no doubt about it.
A profound and stirring excoriation of the absolutist impulse, Fanny and Alexander offers a defense of family and tradition that rejects the tendency of each to curdle into empty rituals and systems of control. Beautiful, cluttered with incident, ornament, and sentiment, and ultimately as mysterious as it is moving, here is a film in which Bergman embraces the unceasing invention and pathos of the human drama.