Fanny och Alexander

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(Fanny and Alexander)

Sweden, 1982

Director: Ingmar Bergman

Production: Cinematograph, for the Swedish Film Institute/Swedish Television STV 1/Gaumont/Personafilm/Tobis Filmkunst; Eastmancolor. Released for the cinema in a 189 minute version, 1982; also released as a 300 minute version in four parts.

Executive producer: Jörn Donner; screenplay: Ingmar Bergman; assistant director: Peter Schildt; photography: Sven Nykvist; assistant photographers: Lars Karlsson, Dan Myhrman; editor: Sylvia Ingemarsson; sound recordists: Owe Svensson, Bo Persson, Björn Gunnarsson, Lars Liljeholm; art director: Anna Asp, costume design: Marki Vos; music: Daniel Bell; special effects: Bengt Lundgren; laterna magica: Christian Wirsén; puppets: Arne Hogsander.

Cast: The Ekdahl Residence: Kristina Adolphson (Siri, Housemaid); Börje Ahlstedt (Carl Ekdahl); Pernilla Allwin (Fanny Ekdahl); Kristian Almgren (Putte); Carl Billquist (Police Superintendent); Axel Düberg (Witness); Allan Edwall (Oscar Ekdahl); Siv Ericks (Alida, Emilie's Cook); Ewa Fröling (Emilie Ekdahl); Patricia Gelin (Statue); Majlis Granlund (Vega, Helena's Cook); Maria Granlund (Petra Ekdahl); Bertil Guve (Alexander Ekdahl); Eva von Hanno (Berta, Helena's Housemaid); Sonya Hedenbratt (Aunt Emma); Olle Hilding (Old Clergyman); Svea Holst (Ester, Helena's Parlour Maid); Jarl Kulle (Gustav Adolf Ekdahl); Käbi Laretei (Aunt Anna); Mona Malm (Alma Ekdahl); Lena Olin (Rosa, New Nursemaid); Gösta Prüzelius (Dr. Fürstenberg); Christina Schollin (Lydia Ekdahl); Hans Strååt (Clergyman at the Wedding); Pernilla Wallgren (Maj, Emilie's Nursemaid); Emilie Werkö (Jenny Ekdahl); Gunn Wållgren (Helena Ekdahl); Inga Alenius (Lisen, Emilie's Housemaid); The Bishop's Palace: Marianne Aminoff (Blenda Vergérus, the Bishop's Mother); Harriet Andersson (Justina, Kitchen Maid); Mona Anderson (Karna, Housemaid); Hans Henrik Lerfeldt (Elsa Bergius, the Bishop's Aunt); Jan Malmsjö (Bishop Edward Vergérus); Marianne Nielsen (Selma, Housemaid); Marrit Olsson (Malla Tander, Cook); Kerstin Tidelius (Henrietta Vergérus, the Bishop's Sister); Theatre: Anna Bergman (Miss Hanna Schwartz); Gunnar Björnstrand (Filip Landahl); Nils Brandt (Mr. Morsing); Lars-Owe Carlberg, Hugo Hasslo, and Sven Erik Jakobsen (Glee Singers); Gus Dahlström (Props Man); Heinz Hopf (Tomas Graal); Maud Hyttenberg-Bartoletti (Miss Sinclair); Marianne Karlbeck (Miss Palmgren); Kerstin Karte (Prompter); Tore Karte (Office Manager); Ake Lagergren (Johan Armfeldt); Sune Mangs (Mr. Salenius); Per Mattson (Mikael Bergman); Lickå Sjöman (Grete Holm); Jacobi's House: Erland Josephson (Isak Jacobi); Stina Ekblad (Ismael); Mats Bergman (Aron); Viola Aberlé, Gerd Andersson, and Anne-Louise Bergström (Japanese Ladies).

Awards: Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, and Best Costume Design, 1983.



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* * *

Ingmar Bergman has said that he made Fanny and Alexander as his final film. It is an ingratiating and expansive film, ultimately a festive comedy, with its bleakest moments embedded between two extended family celebrations, the Christmas during which the father of Fanny and Alexander dies, and the christenings of the sister their mother had from her second husband and the cousin a maid conceived from their married uncle. In its scope, its concatenation of realism and fantasy, and its emotional reversals, the film owes something to Charles Dickens—perhaps to Our Mutual Friend, in particular, for a fire that rids the story of its villains and the intercessions of a benevolent stage Jew. More overtly, Bergman pays homage to Shakespeare and Strindberg, for the children of the title are part of the third generation of a theatrical family; their father collapses during a rehearsal of Hamlet in which he played the ghost, and dies shortly afterwards. (Throughout the film, he haunts Alexander.) The film ends with their grandmother reading the then-fresh script of Strindberg's A Dream Play.

Despite the title, Alexander is the unmistakable center of the film. Bergman's autobiography, The Magic Lantern, indicates that much of the film is based on his life; he has given Alexander a number of autobiographical traits, including a fascination with a magic lantern, and found an actor to portray him who looks remarkably like the pre-adolescent Bergman. Yet the film projects an idealized version of that childhood, as Dickens often did; it is, in fact, Bergman's richest instance of what Freud called "the family romance." Set in turn-ofthe-century Uppsala, it chronicles the Ekdahl family, their friends, servants and lovers.

Plot is secondary to characterization. After the death of Oscar Ekdahl, his widow, Emilie, marries the severe and brutal Bishop Vergérus, taking Fanny and Alexander to live with her in the Bishop's house with his two sisters. The children suffer prolonged isolation in the attic of the house, and Alexander is severely beaten for lies and defiance. Eventually Isak Jacobi, a Jewish cabalist who had been the lover of Helena, the Ekdahl matriarch, spirits away the children in a magical chest. He hides them in his shop of puppets and occult wonders until a fire destroys the Vergérus household except for Emilie, who gives birth to a daughter and rejoins her children and the Ekdahls.

The universe of Fanny and Alexander is "the little world" (Oscar's phrase) of the theater, an affectionate environment that reflects the greater exterior world while defending itself against it. Thus Alexander's active imagination includes an intricate meshing of fantasies, visions, lies, theatricalizations, and magical violence. At the climax of the film Bergman ambiguously intercuts parallel scenes of the Vergérus home and its inhabitants consumed by flames with an encounter between Alexander and Isak's nephew, Ismael, himself ambiguously played by a woman, so that we can read the montage as merely simultaneous or sinisterly causal. As Ismael—whom Alexander visits in his locked room against Isak's warning—caresses him in a manner suggestive of anal intercourse, he encourages the frightened and pained boy to imagine the cruel death of his antagonist.

The film is 189 minutes long; a version in four parts ran as a television serial for a total of 300 minutes. It did not alter substantially the plot of the film; rather it showed more of the Ekdahl theater and enlarged the portraits of Alexander's uncles, the morose professor Carl, and the high spirited adulterer Gustav Adolf. It also included a parable, invented by Bergman but presented as a translation from the Hebrew by Isak, into which Alexander imaginatively projects himself. The published script of the film gives Fanny and Alexander a sister, Amanda, two years older. Its "Prologue" informs us that all three of Emilie's children from her marriage to Oscar were from different fathers, implying Oscar's impotence.

—P. Adams Sitney