Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Fanny and Alexander

While the previous Ingmar Bergman films I've seen have been complex thematically and required careful attention to really understand, they at least weren't particularly long. The version of Fanny and Alexander I saw, on the other hand, was over three hours long, and apparently cut down from an even longer, multi-part film. It was the last movie he made with the intention of a theatrical release, and you can tell he was thinking that because he puts so much into it. It's almost too much Bergman to handle. It still works despite the length and difficulty of the material though because he's just such a talented creator. Not my favorite movie of his, but definitely a good one for fans of film as art.

Plenty of films spend a great deal of time merely establishing tone and character before getting into the meat of the story, and Fanny and Alexander really takes that to a new level. You can see the origins of the work as a series, as pretty much the entire first hour focuses on an annual Christmas party held by a wealthy family after performing a play at the theater they own. Fanny and Alexander are the two children of one of three brothers, who all bring their families to their mother's house each year and have a big celebration with the servants and everything. We see how the members of the family get along (or don't), and learn about their wants and needs. Then the story changes when a death causes an upheaval in their lives, eventually leading to the two titular characters being forced to live in much worse conditions and they struggle with their new surroundings.

The film is most carried by the young actor playing Alexander, and he does a pretty great job as the character, a boy who isn't the bravest but can be defiant when he needs to. It seems pretty hard to find good child actors, but for whatever reason a lot of these classic films have done good jobs about it. I don't really know anyone from the cast (except one of the maids who apparently grew up to be Darth Vader's mom), but they're all generally solid and seem like a family. Gustav Adolf is particularly entertaining. The plot gets a little weird and dreamy in places, with ghostly appearances and unexplainable happenings especially near the end, and I was never totally clear on the exact course of events after a certain point. But it all worked to create the intended mood, and those touches certainly help it fit in with the rest of Bergman's work. He's become one of those directors whose work I don't enjoy easily enough to actively seek out as much as I can, but I'll probably always be willing to see more of.


Indiana said...

This is one of my later additions to my list of personal favorites.

There is something wonderfully sumptuous about the familial scenes of 5 or more people, suggesting Bergman wanted to close with an emphasis on interpersonal units as the source of true happiness in a dark word.

As the mother remarries the Preacher (a truly horrific olde time arctype) the movie becomes very dreary, very much echoing the same plot in David Copperfield.

BTW... I love that you are going through all of the criterions on an almost daily basis. Well done.

Adrenaline said...

Yeah, it's been a pretty rewarding few months of film.