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Fanny and Alexander
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Through the eyes of ten-year-old Alexander, we witness the delights and conflicts of the Ekdahl family, a sprawling bourgeois clan in turn-of-the-twentieth-century Sweden. Ingmar Bergman (The Seventh Seal) intended Fanny and Alexander as his swan song, and it is the legendary director’s warmest and most autobiographical film, a four-time Academy Award–winning triumph that combines his trademark melancholy and emotional intensity with immense joy and sensuality. The Criterion Collection is proud to present both the theatrical release and the original five-hour television version of this great work. Also included in the box set is Bergman’s own feature-length documentary The Making of “Fanny and Alexander,” a unique glimpse into his creative process.
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From the start with Alexander alone in his grandmothers apartment, through an extravagant Christmas party, to the richness of the theater, to the much darker residence of the next chapter of this family's life, the movie is simply an exquisite piece of artistic beauty of early 20th Century Sweden. On a visual level Bergman has always been a master, but here he showed a more lively and ambitious side than he had before. The performances are all terrific, and I'm particularly fond of Bertil Guv as Alexander, Gun Wallgren as his reserved grandmother, and Jarl Kulle as his boisterous uncle.
The movie, in spite of some quite dark elements, is quite a bit more upbeat than typical Bergman film. Those that may have admired his earlier works but felt them a little overbearing and depressing will likely welcome this ride with the great peaks and valleys of this family. Whether Alexander really has some power to see these images or if it's only a child's vivid imagination leaves room for exploration.
My rating is for the whole package but is based primarily on the over five hour version of the film. The two separate versions of the movie are both great experiences, with slightly different moods and emphasis, though I prefer the longer television one and that's the one I will look forward to seeing more times in the future. I understand they wanted to get a reasonable length for the theaters, but for me the shortened version lacks a lot of the richness of the other, removing great scenes especially from the back half of the film. Though either way you view it it's very emotionally involving as a work of art and a must see.
Fanny and Alexander, the three disk Criterion Collection blu-ray, is simply put spectacular. Ingmar Bergman's masterpiece gets the treatment it deserves and then some, both in picture and sound quality and with great extra content. One disk contains the five-hour version, a second the three hour theatrical version, and a third has an impressive array of special features. The documentary "The Making of Fanny and Alexander" in particular is fascinating (and feels surprisingly personal), as is the film commentary which is unfortunately only on the theatrical version. Make no mistake this is one Criterion worth every penny and more.
Of these two choices the longer TV version is the one to watch because it transports the viewer even deeper into the lives of Fanny and Alexander than the shorter movie version does (the theatrical version was in fact assembled from the longer TV series).
I won't review the plot because that is covered in so many other reviews on this site--my goal is to help the reader find the best version to purchase.
Fanny and Alexander is about the Ekdahl family but mainly focuses on the grandmother Helena, her daughter Emilie and Emilie's two kids, the boy, Alexander, and the girl, Fanny. The story focuses on what happens to their lives after Emilie's husband Oscar dies, leaving Fanny and Alexander without a father, and Emilie without a husband. Ingmar Bergman is a genius with film. This movie, despite being 5 and a half hours, never left me bored. I was so engrossed in the characters and felt so much care for the two children, it was as if they were my own. I took stock in the story within the first hour. He truly did have a marvelous gift for story telling and this mammoth of a film, Fanny and Alexander, could very well be his best film ever!
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