on February 25, 2007
"Fanny and Alexander" (1982) was announced at the time of its release as Ingmar Bergman's swan song, his last film for the big screen. It is his most optimistic and enchanting blend of romance, tragedy, comedy, fantasy, and mysticism. Set in Sweden in the beginning of the 20th century, the film follows the lives and adventures of two children, brother and sister Fanny and Alexander Edkahl.
I love Bergman in every mood and in every genre - I love him dark, bleak, harrowing ("Shame"), mysterious ("Persona"), merciless and devastating ("Scenes from a Marriage, "Face to Face", "Autumn Sonata). I love his lighter, smiling side ("Wild Strawberries", "Smiles of a Summer Night). Even for a master of Bergman's powerful talent, "Fanny and Alexander" is extraordinary - a profound film which is also one of his most accessible works.
Pablo Picasso said once, "When I was 9 years old, I could paint like Rafael; as an adult, all my life I tried to learn how to paint like a child". In his final film, one of the greatest masters of dark and often pessimistic psychological studies looks at the world with a child's eye. The words he chose to finish his film with, reflect the hope, the happiness and the magic that can be fully felt only in one's childhood: "...Anything can happen, anything is possible. Time and space do not exist. ..On a flimsy ground of reality, imagination spins out and waves new patterns." --- August Strindberg's introductory notes for A Dream Play.
The next best thing to watching Bergman's films is for me to watch and listen to him talking about himself and about his works. "Making of Fanny and Alexander" which is included in the extra-ordinary Criterion set, is a fascinating document - I always wanted to know how he makes his films, what is behind the poetry of images and the sound of silence. Following the master's steps, watching the most magical scenes born in front of you, seeing him in control of his production, always knowing what he wants and leading his crew and his actors; his longtime friendship with his legendary cinematographer Swen Nykwist to the point that they don't talk much - they don't need many words to understand each other - all of these made "Making of Fanny and Alexander" absolutely unique and amazing experience for me. The birth of each scene is a miracle but some of them stand out. The first is one of the most enigmatic and magical scenes ever and not only in Bergman's films - night scene in the Isak's house between Alexander and Ismael, a completely mysterious character with supernatural psychic powers who helped Alexander to unleash his own powers he never knew he had.
The second is the scene with Gunnar Björnstrand, one of the most versatile Bergman's actors (Höstsonaten, (1978), Ansikte mot ansikte (1976), Skammen (1968), Persona (1966), Nattvardsgästerna (1963), Såsom i en spegel (1961), Ansiktet (1958), Smultronstället (1957), Sommarnattens leende (1955), and his masterpiece Det Sjunde inseglet, (1957)). He was old and apparently ill while making Fanny and Alexander which was his last film. The scene in "Making of..." is almost 20 minutes long and shows over and over how Bergman rehearses a short, perhaps one or two minute long cameo with Björnstrand as clown Feste in Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night". It is painful to watch a great actor in such a pitiful state. At some point you'd want Bergman to stop what seems like a torture but he goes on, encouraging his friend, praising him, making sure that Gunnar feels comfortable but not stopping before the scene is shot to his liking...