FANNY AND ALEXANDER
(Fanny Och Alexander)
Ingmar Bergman made Fanny and Alexander at the age of 64 and announced it would be his last film he subsequently directed only theatre up until his death in 2007. Fanny and Alexander is like an enormous loosely autobiographical tapestry upon Bergmans part, winding in the predominating themes that have graced his work the harsh and authoritarian religious upbringing (his father was a Lutheran minister), the formative influence of theatre and puppetry (he directed plays and puppet shows at home as a teenager and became a theatre director before he was a filmmaker), the essential magic of the imagination, the extended families and their mutual pains and joys. Fanny and Alexander was a fitting swan song for Ingmar Bergman and is one of his greatest works.
While much of Ingmar Bergmans earlier work tends to weigh down in intellectual gloom, Fanny and Alexander is a sublimely warm and happy film. The scenes of the extended family clan are evoked with an extraordinary richness, both on a visual level and in the warm, occasionally bawdy characterizations of some of the family. Sven Nykvists photography deservedly won that years Academy Award he and Bergman dress the household with extraordinary detail. There is one exquisite shot tracking down a street where each window comes filled with hundreds of lit candles. This of course comes at pointed visual contrast to the second half of the film where the rich reds, golds and greens of the Ekdahl household come at stark antithesis to the bare grey austerity of the Vergerus home. Bergman confirms his directorial mastery in the intense, frighteningly pitched confrontations between Vergerus and Alexander. There is, as always, an extraordinary power to Bergmans direction, none more so than the single shot that tracks the two children as they follow a horrible screaming through the house in the middle of the night to eventually arrive at their mother wailing over Oscars casket.
As with much of Ingmar Bergmans work, there comes a magical evocation of fantasy from the matter-of-factly accepted ghosts that appear throughout to Ishmael, the spookily androgyne psychic with shaven eyebrows, who shows Alexander how to free himself by unleashing his psychic powers. There is an extraordinary abundance of imagery in the film too much to explore here. One of the most striking allusions is to Hamlet which notedly the father dies performing that subsequently hangs over the film like a story frame after dying the father returns to his son as a ghost, providing Alexander/Hamlet with information about how Vergerus/Claudius, who has now married Alexanders mother, killed his previous wife. All of this makes for a particularly chilling twist ending.
Ingmar Bergman originally made Fanny and Alexander as a five-hour plus production for Swedish tv. This was released outside the country in a condensed 188-minute cinematic version. The film version is available in a badly dubbed American version and a superior international subtitled version. The original five-hour version was finally given a DVD release in 2002. Certainly, the condensed cinematic version holds up remarkably well on its own the only noticeable difference is the character of the self-despising drunkard son Carl and his German wife who seem to drop off and be forgotten about. The film won Ingmar Bergman his fourth Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
Ingmar Bergmans other genre films are: The Seventh Seal (1957) about meetings between a knight and Death incarnate; The Magician/The Face (1958), about a magical performing troupe who have reputed supernatural powers; the revenge film The Virgin Spring (1959); The Devils Eye (1960), a comedy about The Devil sending Don Juan to tempt a vicars wife whose purity offends him; Hour of the Wolf (1968) about a tormented artists hallucinations come to life; and the acclaimed adaptation of Mozarts opera fantasy The Magic Flute (1975). All are recommended with the highest praise.