Fanny och Alexander [Theatrical Version]

A part of this view­ing list: Criterion Collection Spine #263: Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny och Alexander [Theatrical Version].

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Although I’ve yet to see the five hour tele­vi­sion ver­sion of this film, Fanny and Alexander seems an odd ti­tle for a film in which Fanny is lit­tle more than an af­ter­thought foil to her broth­er Alexander. There are hints through­out the film, how­ev­er, that shots that ap­pear to be ob­jec­tive might ac­tu­al­ly be first-per­son point of view. The film does its best to cap­ture the cin­e­mat­ic equiv­a­lent at­mos­phere of the lim­i­nal stage of an ado­les­cent rite of pas­sage. While this is typ­i­cal­ly brief, the grad­u­al emer­gence of an ado­les­cent cul­ture has length­ened this event to a years long trans­for­ma­tion. Alexander is ahead of his time in this re­gard. The film takes place at the turn of the 19th cen­tu­ry, and while Alexander’s adult fam­i­ly mem­bers are com­fort­able in their lifestyles, his al­ter­nat­ing pas­sive de­fi­ance and de­featism seems to pre­sage the Modern hor­rors of the 20th cen­tu­ry.

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Basically he’s caught be­tween the worst of the old and the worst of the new. After his fa­ther dies piti­ful­ly, there is a Hamlet ref­er­en­tial space in which his moth­er re­mar­ries a Calvinist bish­op whose un­wel­come over­ly-fa­mil­iar touch not on­ly makes Alexander’s skin crawl, but the viewer’s as well. This au­thor­i­tar­i­an en­forces a dis­ci­pline that is marked­ly dif­fer­ent than the lib­er­al at­mos­phere of the Ekdahl ma­tri­archy. In an en­vi­ron­ment that is proud of the fact that it has re­mained aus­tere­ly un­changed for hun­dreds of years, Alexander be­gins to learn to use his par­tic­u­lar tal­ent for imag­i­na­tion and guile as a po­tent weapon. It is in­evitable that he will have a show­down with the bish­op. Alexander’s mouth is just as smart as mine was, when he de­cides to use it.

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Despite his an­tag­o­nism, both he and his moth­er lack the strength to es­cape. A friend of the fam­i­ly de­vis­es a strat­a­gem to res­cue the chil­dren, and it is on­ly at this point, the cli­max of the film that it los­es me. There are some de­lib­er­ate con­ti­nu­ity shifts that throw the whole cre­at­ed re­al­i­ty of the film in­to ques­tion. Since this oc­curs in such a key spot, it is hard to de­cide just what Alexander is, and where we are in re­la­tion to him. The film set­tles down again af­ter this mo­ment, and in the house of Uncle Isak, Alexander comes face to face with his fu­ture, in the per­son of the wild Ismael. Again the re­al­i­ty of the film is called in­to ques­tion, un­til even­tu­al­ly the on­ly guides left come from the mono­logues of the Ekdahl men and the clos­ing quote from August Strindberg. More on that when I re­view the tele­vi­sion ver­sion. [As a note to my­self.]

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Criterion Review by Rick Moody.
Deep Focus re­view.
1983 Roger Ebert re­view.
2004 Roger Ebert re­view.
Alternative Film Guide re­view.
• YouTube clip.

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