Fanny and Alexander

Fanny and Alexander (1982)
★★★ / ★★★★

Ingmar Bergman’s semi-autobiographical film about siblings Fanny (Pernilla Allwin) and Alexander (Bertil Guve) experience a life of cruelty after their mother (Ewa Fröling) marries a minister after the death of their father (Allan Edwall). At first I didn’t understand what the film was trying to accomplish during the first fifty minutes because it kept focusing on a family reunion during a Christmas party. The title suggested that the story was about the two siblings so I was a bit frustrated. But it later occured to me that introducing the family and relatives (especially the grandmother played brilliantly and passionately by Gunn Wållgren) was important because of the many powerplay that would occur later on when the two children and the wife moved into the minister’s house. The picture reminded me of Stanley Kubrick’s asthetic perfectionism (especially in “Barry Lyndon”) because Bergman’s attention to detail was inspired. The movie did not just look great but the director was able to use the look of the film to signify emotions and say the unsaid by using varying colors and contrasting images. To me, the most interesting parts of the film were the silent moments when particular characters would stare off into space but look so solemn at the same time. The poetry in the subtle facial expressions and body movements said so much that it sometimes did not need dialogue. Also, by using such technique, both the story and the performances felt very natural. I also liked the fact that the movie was not monotonous. With movies that contain childhood abuse and suddenly losing one’s comfort for the harsh reality, they sometimes borderline the melodramatic. In here, there were pockets of humor, suspense and even a genuine sense of being with family. At the same time, the movie allows us to see through Alexander’s eyes; that is, when he “sees” ghosts, makes up stories, and even when he starts losing faith in a higher power. All of those elements worked together to give us a complex portrait of childhood. I’ve heard that this film was originally a six-hour miniseries and I’m very much interested in seeing the whole thing so that I could observe the family dynamics a lot more. “Fanny and Alexander” is not the kind of movie that most people would necessarily warm up to or understand right away. But with a little bit of patience, open-mindedness and insight, one will most likely recognize its brilliance.

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