Wednesday, December 26, 2018



Director/Screenplay: Ingmar Bergman

While I make no secret of the fact that many of these Canon of Film posts are updated from pieces of writing that I wrote a long time ago, long before I had this blog even, I have to be honest, they're still usually films that I've long thought about and analyzed several times previously, enough that I often find myself pondering them, long after I've seen them, sometimes years between viewings. That said, it's been a long time since I've even thought much about "Fanny and Alexander" at all. Honestly, I don't think I've ever really understood this one. Not that that's a totally uncommon occurance when it comes to Ingmar Bergman. I've loved several of his movies as most cinephiles do; I'd probably list "Persona" as my favorite, which probably ranks as one of his most esoteric and inexplicable films, but yeah, it took me a few viewings . Somehow I always admired "Fanny and Alexander" much more than I outright appreciated it. I've seen it often listed among his greatest films, and it's often ranked among the best films of the last quarter of the 20th Century. I think I always just wrote that off as being that critics felt an obligation to list a Bergman on any greatest list and I guess it's the most obvious pick among his later work. It was supposed to originally be his final film, but he would go on to direct all the way into the 21st Century. 

I had intended to at some point give "Fanny and Alexander" a rewatch, and perhaps finish the extended miniseries version of the feature before adding it to the Canon, but that time hasn't come yet. I'm sure I'll get to it at some point, but this,- what has been, without getting into any details, by far the worst Christmas I've ever had; "Fanny and Alexander" suddenly starting peaking into my mindspace. The exact familial details escape me, but I do remember the broad outline, the beginning the extended family Christmas that introduces us to the whole family. Then, the two titular kids, Fanny and Alexander (Pernilla Allwin and Burtil Guve) have to go live with their stepfather Bishop Edvard (Jan Malmsjo), who married their mother Helene (Gunn Wallgren) and their life becomes distressingly cold and all that good-hearted and loving life that enveloped these kids' early lives is completely removed and replaced with a hard, repressed, cold emptiness that's segregated from the outside world and everything that these kids have known before. After a while though, with the Bishop, getting worse and worse, the rest of the family eventually stage a prison break of sorts to get the family out and return them to normalcy. 

Honestly, I always thought that as a story, it only really seems powerful if you're familiar with Bergman's life, as the story is autobiographical based on his own childhood, and his mother marrying Protestant minister probably inspired most of Bergman's consumate criticism of religion that God that peppered the majority of his films up to this point. That's how I always kinda dismissed this narrative, as almost too personal. 

Is it though? I used to think it was, but after a few relatives have passed and life has struggled on, and more and more me and many members of my family, seem to reflect nostalgically on how much better those older Christmases were. I'm doing it a lot lately, and I'm also thinking about how when the new person gets introduced into the family just how drastically that old life can change and how impacted and sudden the shift can be, especially when you're a kid. 

Something strikingly similar happened to me that happens to Alexander and Fanny in  the film when I was a kid. It didn't last too long at the time, but, again without going into too many details, there was a character who suddenly entered our lives as a family and it wasn't good and later, he was soon out after our family got him out. 

I didn't have a magician family member that helped smuggle me out of anywhere with a trunk, or an eccentric entertainment family. It's strange how the film plays. It's often discussed as having a child's perspective on the world, and it does. There's hallucinations of moving statues and other pieces of magic while the family, as eclectic and eccentric as they are, always seem, overwhelming, not just in numbers but in size. Yet, Bergman's spends a lot of time focusing on them, not just from Alexander's perspective. Part of this, is the contrast of course, but I suspect there's more celebration than recall. Reminiscing instead of remembering. 

In my original review, I tried to compare the movie to "Hamlet", because one of  the family patriarchs Oscar (Siv Ericks) dies of a stroke shortly after fumblings his lines in a performance of Hamlet. Hamlet’s a bad comparison, even though it follows the outline, but in terms of it's tone and narrative it’s more closer to a kid’s story like "Pinocchio" or "The Wizard of Oz." It’s got as much wonder and enchantment as a Disney film… a good Disney film. One that celebrates the magic and fantasy and also embraces the love and quirkiness of family. 

It's got a lot of everything when you really think about it. I can see why he wanted this to be his last film at one point in his life. I'm glad it wasn't; I think he proved to have much more to say about love and life and living, but still, "Fanny and Alexander" gives us the ebbs and flows of life, how our feelings and emotions towards people and events that occurred in our life can change as we grow and evolve, and how we can sometimes recall little details as children just as keenly as we observe life's sudden and unforeseeable changes that can get thrust upon ourselves. He gives us more of himself perhaps in this film than in any other. I think perhaps now, I can appreciate that more than I did once upon a time, or I can at least empathsize and understand why it's a film that's so positively reflected on these days. 

Still not entirely certain this is truly among Bergman's very best, but it interesting how Bergman movies have a way of sneaking on you at different specific times in life. 

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