Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Fanny and Alexander

(Fanny Och Alexander, Sweden, France, West Germany, 1982)

Ingmar Bergman made this to be released in two versions. The first was as a television series running 312 minutes. As it happened, he had to edit it down to 188 minutes for theatrical release, a process he described as “cutting into the nerves and lifeblood of the film.” Luckily, the TV series still happened, and it is that version that is on the Criterion DVD, the version we saw. I don’t even want to think about the butchery that had to have been done to cut this magnificent work of art into a length the human butt could endure. That’s the version that most people have seen, and it must have been at least okay, since most people loved it. If they saw it as it should be, they would love it even more. It won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film.

It is so big, so beautiful that it just rolls over you in layer after layer of beauty and emotion. It is semi-autobiographical, in that there are multiple examples where the story of Alexander parallels the early life of Bergman, who was raised in a very privileged family, but whose childhood was haunted by a really terrible, strict disciplinarian father. That man is shown in the movie as Alexander and Fanny’s stepfather, a bishop. His home might as well have been carved from an iceberg, cold and without ornament of any kind. It is an extreme contrast with the warmth and wealth they had known.

There isn’t a lot of point in getting deeply into the story. At over five hours, Bergman has the time to let scenes run much longer than most of us are used to, and I’m sure this will be a problem for some people. For me, it just enhanced the richness of the story and especially of the sometimes strange, sometimes nasty, but usually warm and loving relatives and family friends. There are two huge banquets, one at the very beginning at Christmas time (Jul, in Sweden), that is wonderfully joyous and festive. The Ekdahl family really knew how to celebrate the season! There must have been a tree dripping with ornaments in every room of the huge mansion.

Every scene is a wonder to behold. It was nominated for six Oscars total, and won four. Sven Nykvist, one of the best cameramen who ever worked, won for cinematography. Anna Asp and Susanne Lingheim won for art direction, and Marik Vos-Lundh for costume design. This was Bergman’s last theatrical film (he did a few films for television), and it is a fitting end to the career of one of the best and most influential filmmakers of all time.