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Bergman's Swan Song

  • Aug 27, 2009
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 Supposedly, the character Alexander is a bit more fleshed out in the Director's intended cut which was originally made for Swedish television.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.     
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August 31, 2009
It sounds enticing to be sure. I remember the first Bergman film I ever saw. It was in re-release and showing at a drive-in when I was in high school--WILD STRAWBERRIES. Unfortunately it wasn't exactly the kind of movie my date was into. Great review by the way!
September 01, 2009
I have never seen Strawberries but seriously need to do my homework on Bergman. I don't know if I would take a date to see any of his films but ...I've enjoyed every film he's ever made thus far. Thanks for the compliment! It's good to hear from you again.
August 29, 2009
nice work. Your review managed will entice the reader w/out giving out any major plot details. Like you, I have limited exposure to Bergman. I think somebody else in the ammie crew reviewed this but I can't remember who. I will have to keep an eye out for this...
August 30, 2009
I think you would really dig this one & I'd definitely be interested in reading your take on it. From what I've gathered through reading your reviews, this one would be a keeper in your own personal library. Also, you are a Criterion fanatic so that's one more reason to check out their extraordinary job here presented as Bergman would've wanted. I just bought another Criterion film Sweetie & that may be next on my list of things to review. After all, 100 reviews before the end of 2009 is my goal. Thanks for the wonderful comments.
August 28, 2009
I'm glad to be the first guy to give you kudos on this one. I've always had a love for Bergman (though you already know that) and this is a masterpiece, though not really his swan song, but still one of his latter films that is absolutely amazing. I'm quite impressed in how quickly you banged this comprehensive review out. If it had been me you would've been waiting for a month probably. LOL! Anyway, thanks for the great review.
August 28, 2009
I'm glad you stopped by to read the review & leave some positive feedback. I was beginning to think no one was going to touch this with a ten foot pole but apparently I was wrong. Thanks!! This one took about an hour to research, piece together, & check for spelling. I really did have a good time re-living the memory of watching this film for the first time & I will no doubt purchase that five disc Director's Cut for the holidays. No serious film collector should be without it. And you're welcome by the way.
August 28, 2009
I know, if those Criterion Collection DVD sets weren't so expensive I would go to town gobbling up as many Kurosawa and Bergman DVDs as I could. Unfortunately being unemployed tends to put a damper on one's recreational spending.
August 28, 2009
I know the feeling man. Well, hell. I'm employed and I still can't afford even a mere fraction of the Criterion collection. I did find a used copy of Campion's Sweetie on good ol' ammie about two weeks ago. Might very well write up a review for that one someday. ;-)~ We shall see.
About the reviewer
Brian ()
Ranked #28
I've spent years trying to make others happy & not really focusing on what's most important in my own life. Having said that, my own health & security are paramount so now I'm more … more
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