Currently, there are two editions of Bergman's unforgettable classic on DVD released by Criterion. The theatrical version ($29.95) is the Academy Award winning 188-minute version which most of us are at least remotely familiar with & the special five disc edition ($59.95) which includes the complete theatrical version as well as the five hour Director's Cut. I, personally, hope to one day own that second five disc box as I've loved this film for years & consider it to be my favorite Bergman film thus far.
Unfortunately, I have little basis for comparison here (as my only prior exposure to Bergman has been with such classics as Smiles Of A Summer Night & his final opus Saraband), I am by no means qualified to judge the film against a Bergman "standard". However, I will say in confidence that I seriously doubt he has directed another film as flawless as Fanny & Alexander. This film is more than deserving of all the garnered accolades & high praise it's received over the past 20 some odd years. I could easily watch this film over & over only to discover something new with each viewing. Bergman's masterpiece is a film to admire, to embrace, & to relish for many more years to come.
As Christmas draws nearer, I'm absolutely determined to purchase the five disc edition as many reviews on amazon have described it as a truly beautiful experience that contains the metaphor of humanity's long walk. Supposedly, the character Alexander is a bit more fleshed out in the Director's intended cut which was originally made for Swedish television. There is more of the Christmas Eve party that begins the film. Especially meaningful is a long sequence between Fanny and Alexander and their doomed father, as he demonstrates the nature of storytelling with a simple chair. Thus, the 312 minute version is considered by many to be the most beautiful DVD release ever devoted to a single film. Although $59.95 does sound a bit pricey for one film, I daresay everything written in the amazon overview is rather enticing & tempting even for the cheap bastard such as myself.
Fanny & Alexander may very well be one of the most personal works of art Bergman ever created & fans of his work site this film as his warmest creation ever. Bergman drew upon his own childhood memories as the basis for his portrayal of the Ekdahls, an upper-class family whose celebrations & tribulations are seen through the eyes of Alexander, a 10 year old with an extremely vivid imagination. Through Alexander's eyes, the world of the late 19Th century comes to life much like the puppets do in the children's' theater. Bergman has created a film which undoubtedly opens your eyes & completely touches the heart.
Perhaps what I found most charming about Bergman's work was the Ekdahl family rather than just the children. I thoroughly enjoyed the fleshing out of the story as well as the rich development of all the characters under the Ekdahl family tree which allows us to become utterly engrossed from the opening scene until the very last frame. The Ekdahls have a great lust for life & tradition which is clearly seen in the early montages that set the stage for one remarkable family drama that viewers are unlikely to forget for a long time.
While the Ekdahl's would seem to have a truly close-knit family whose admiration & love exceeds all normal human capacity, Bergman allows us to see the chain of events which unfold after tragedy strikes. During the rehearsal of "Hamlet' , Oskar Ekdahl suddenly dies leaving behind Emilie & their two children Fanny & Alexander. Emilie, a wonderful mother & window, feels that her children need a father figure & proceeds to wed a cruel& domineering bishop. Love is "strong and hard" in the pastor's house. Thus, corporal punishment is interjected by the bishop & even his sister Henrietta. Emilie realizes only too late that her marriage to Bishop Edvard may have been a grand mistake.
Bergman's film is a delight in every sense of the word although it does remind one of the cruelties inflicted upon us in our formative years which may linger on in our minds. Although Fanny & Alexander does end on a fairly cheerful note, it's certainly not an easy film to digest nor would I would recommend it to viewers who aren't cognizant of Bergman's strong body of work. I would suggest something a bit lighter perhaps such as Smiles Of A Summer Night for Bergman newbies.