Fanny og Alexander
It has been
about a month since my last post and, yes, I did spend a week on a winter
escape, but mostly the wait is due to the length and pace of this, the next
movie on the List. “Fanny och Alexander” comes in a cinematic version of 188
minutes, but of course I happened to buy the miniseries version clocking in at
a whooping 312 minutes. It was a tough one to get through and it did not help
that work has been very busy. Anyway, finally done.
Christmas time 1907 in the home of the Ekdahls in Uppsala, Sweden. The Ekdahls
are wealthy, so the party takes place in their palatial home stuffed with
domestics and expensive furniture. We get the entire Christmas party in close
to real-time, I do believe it is longer than the wedding in “Deerhunter”, and
the amount of detail is incredible. I noticed that they have the almond present
and the dance through the halls to the song “Nu er det jul igen!”, both Danish
traditions, though I would not be surprised if they actually originate from
this movie. Danish television has had a long tradition of airing “Fanny och
Alexander” during Christmas and this Christmas scene is the only thing I remember
having watched before. In any case, the Christmas party serves to introduce us
to the numerous members of the Ekdahl family and show us how happy they are.
Allwin) and Alexander (Bertil Guve) are the grandchildren of family matron
Helena Ekdahl (Gunn Wålgren) and children of theater director Oscar Ekdahl
(Allan Edwall) and actress Emilie Ekdahl (Ewa Fröling). In this environment
Alexander’s imagination is sincerely encouraged. Then, shortly after Christmas,
Oscar suffers a stroke and dies. Emilie tries to carry on running the theater,
but eventually she abandons it and marry the town bishop, Edvard Vergerus (Jan
Malmsjö). The bishop is a hard and religious man who believes in austerity and discipline,
a combination that goes down very poorly with the children. His regime of
punishment and degradation makes Emilie regret, but there is no way the bishop
will let go of her and the children.
Alexander”, I understand, is supposed to be, to some extent, autobiographical,
which actually makes a lot of sense when you watch it. I can see Bergman as
Alexander being born into a creative theater world and I can see how an encounter
with the bishop would mark you for life. In fact, if half of this is
autobiographical, this movie would offer a Freudian explanation for most of his
also explain some of the more illogical elements of the movie, first and
foremost why Emilie would want to marry Edvard. It does not take more than a
glimpse of the man to see this is a bad match and any lingering doubt
evaporates when he opens his mouth. Her explanation makes very little sense
unless she is a complete idiot and incredibly selfish. The only explanation
that works is… that it actually happened, which I am inclined to think.
a number of magical or spiritual moments, such as seeing ghosts or his encounters
at the home of Isak Jacobi (Erland Josephson). It is easy to see a lot into
this magic, but I prefer the simpler explanation of Bergman’s representation of
creative imagination, the vent of his inspiration, At eleven years of age
anything can become magic.
Ekdahls are clearly the good people (and privileged), the Vergerus are the bad
guys. You need go no further than the interior décor, clothing and lighting to
be convinced of that. There are no grey zones here. Christian ascetism as the source
of problems is a recuring Bergman theme. The Jewish Jacobi household has a
curios role here. As friends of the Ekdahls, they are clear members of the good
side, but as a free agent, they can operate in spaces the Ekdahls cannot, both practically
“Fanny and Alexander” is not a bad movie, but it suffers from wanting to tell
too much. The long version I watched is easily two hours too long. Isolated,
the many details may be interesting, but they also serve to distract for the
core of the story. As narratives, the many detours are simply not interesting
enough and I get impatient and distracted. The Ekdahl brothers Gustav Adolf
(Jarl Kulle) and Carl (Börje Ahlstedt) are the comic relief as the movie’s Thomson
twins, but sadly not funny enough for that (a classic Swedish problem).
personally, suffering children are deeply problematic to watch and here their
suffering is drawn out for hours. In the end we see much less than we sense,
but it was still hard for me to endure.
Alexander” won four Academy Awards, but not for editing. That one was a big
fail. Cut out about three hours and we are down to something that would work.
The miniseries version I simply cannot recommend.