FANNY AND ALEXANDER
Review by Michael Jacobson
Bertil Guve, Pernilla Allwin, Ewa Groling, Gun Wallgren, Pernilla
Wallgren, Jan Malmsjo, Allan Edwall, Borje Ahlstedt, Erland Josephson, Jarl
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.66:1
Features: See Review
Length: Theatrical Version 188 Minutes, Television Version 312 Minutes
Release Date: November 17, 2004
know we’ll hurt each other…but I’m not afraid.”
making Fanny and Alexander, the legendary Ingmar Bergman stated candidly
that it would be his last feature film. It
was a proclamation that could only be compared to the announcement of the
Beatles breaking up…fans all over the world had to carry a heavy burden in
their hearts knowing that no longer would a new piece of art come our way
created by an artist that so singularly defined his medium.
also marked a return to Sweden for the master after a tax dispute exile, as well
as a daring financial proposition: though
$9 million isn’t a big deal in America, for a Swedish film in 1983, it was
almost unheard of. Even larger was
Bergman’s concept of a 5 hour long film, which he eventually compromised on,
trimming a 3 hour version for international theatrical release while keeping his
4 part longer version intact for Swedish television.
proves once again to be the cineaste’s best friend by release a superb five
disc box set that includes both versions of Bergman’s swan song.
In fact, I’d wager for many of us outside of Sweden, this delicious DVD
marks our first chance to see the filmmaker’s uncut, uncompromised version as
the theatrical version opens, we are looking at a toy stage.
The back partition lifts to show Alexander (Guve) looking in keenly.
Bergman illustrates the idea of his movie in one sweet stroke:
we are going to be looking at the world through a child’s point of
view. For Alexander, childhood is a
magical time, where a big apartment comes alive, where statues seem to move, and
where a spot under a dining table can be a world all unto its own.
film is split with an intermission, but one could easily diagram it into three
major acts. In the first, we
celebrate Christmas with Fanny (Allwin) and Alexander’s theatrical family,
where we meet all kinds of wonderful characters.
Most notable are the glorious matriarch Helena (Gun Wallgren), the
children’s sickly father Oscar (Edwall), their pretty mother Emilie (Froling),
the busty big-hearted nursemaid Maj (Pernilla Wallgren), the womanizing Gustav
Adolf (Kulle) and the failed Carl (Ahlstedt).
celebration is big, colorful and wondrous, and one might begin to view the movie
as Fellini-esque, until the death of Oscar the father causes a turn in tone.
Soon, Emilie has accepted a marriage proposal from Edvard (Malmsjo), a
bishop who insists she and her children leave all property and friends and
family behind as they come to live with him in his parish.
Gone is the cornucopia of colors; replacing it is a cold, gray world
hardly fit for children.
bishop is strict, and he and Alexander frequently find themselves at odds,
particularly when Alexander tells a fanciful story of what MIGHT have happened
to the bishop’s deceased first wife and daughters. Emilie begins to realize her mistake, but her options seem
third act involves the freeing of the children by a family friend, Isak (Josephson),
a Jewish antique dealer whose shop seems more alive than any setting we’ve
seen in the film. Endless props,
bits of furniture and so on make for mazes easy for a child to get amusingly
lost in. It is there that Alexander
contemplates the true nature of God, intercut with a strange unfolding scenario
at the bishop’s residence that seems to finally resolve everything for the
could call Fanny and Alexander a summation of Ingmar Bergman’s entire
film career…it covers many of the themes the master had explored over the
decades, from birth, life and death to the true meaning of God, from seeing
family as a circle of love and warmth to seeing it as people who try but fail to
really communicate, and from seeing religion as something cold and oppressive to
seeing it as something filled with wonder and possibility.
All of these are contemplated through the eyes of the very young, so one
could also say that Bergman finished his movie career by going back to the
film won international acclaim and took home an impressive four Academy Awards.
It was as inspiring to long time Bergman admirers as it was to those
getting their first look at his work. It
told a basic human story with Bergman’s sense of wonder, and at the same time,
it was a technical marvel, filled with marvelous acting, beautiful sets and
costumes, and the masterful camerawork of Sven Nykvist.
now, as mentioned, movie lovers have a chance to behold the full 5 hour version
as Bergman originally intended. It’s
divided into four episodes, about an hour and a quarter each, and when viewed as
such, you really get a chance to take in and digest Bergman’s full vision in a
highly palatable format. The most
improved segment is the bishop’s house, where we finally see how Alexander
used his imagination as a means of escaping from his new bleak world.
One gets the sense that Bergman felt his own imagination was fueled by
mentally escaping his own strict religious upbringing.
The theatrical version is excellent, but the television version feels
more well rounded and crafted. Criterion
struck gold once before with Bergman’s dual theatrical/television
presentations of Scenes From a Marriage in one excellent DVD set; Fanny
and Alexander is a fantastic follow-up.
a bittersweet movie for film lovers everywhere who’ve had to accept that there
was not to be another Ingmar Bergman film following it.
Yet he left his fans with a triumphant picture with enough in it to fill
hearts and minds for a long time to come. We
couldn’t have asked for a better coda.
often as I’ve complained about how movies from the 80s look on DVD, I have to
say, I don’t think I’ve ever been so impressed with such a transfer before.
Criterion’s anamorphic offering of Fanny and Alexander is
breathtaking from start to finish. I’ve
never seen an 80s presentation with so much crispness and detail, or with better
coloring. Every image is sharp and clear, every beautiful, subtle shade
is bright, vivid and natural looking. The
overall effect of Bergman’s and Nykvist’s compositions is a visual banquet,
and they couldn’t have asked for better home video presentation that this
DVD…it’s no wonder it earned Bergman’s personal approval.
was actually surprised to read that this was a mono track…it sounded so much
livelier and more dynamic than that! The
mix is good, with clear dialogue and good music from Daniel Bell.
Quiet scenes aren’t marred by background noise, and bigger scenes
provide the dynamic range. The original Swedish soundtrack is a bit clearer and more
striking than the English dubbed one, but both are there to suit your
to start with this amazing five disc set? The
theatrical disc features an excellent commentary track by film scholar and
Criterion staple Peter Cowie, who offers plenty of detail and insight into the
master’s last motion picture. A
bonus feature film The Making of Fanny and Alexander is a treat; it
offers rare insight into Ingmar Bergman at work with a big cast including lots
of kids, and showing how magic is lifted from script pages and captured on
Bergman Bids Farewell to Film” is an hour long 1984 conversation between
Bergman and Nils Petter Sundgren, which talks about the finale that was Fanny
and Alexander while giving a look to Bergman’s future from that point.
“A Bergman Tapestry” is a look back at the movie with many of the
film’s cast and crew members.
out are 11 video introductions of Ingmar Bergman to some of his best movies as
made for Swedish television, plus trailers for many of them, a stills gallery,
costume sketches, and video footage of the models used in the design of the
Oscar winning sets. And, of course,
no Criterion disc would be complete without a booklet containing new essays on
the film. A terrific array of