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.