Starring: Pernilla Allwin, Bertil Guve, Ewa Fröling
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Running Time: 312 mins
Fanny And Alexander (Fanny och Alexander) is a Swedish film about ther life of two young siblings in a small city in early twentieth-century Sweden, and the events that unfold after the sudden death of their father.
Also released in a three-hour theatrical cut, this five-hour original version of Fanny And Alexander is an epic piece of work. Poetic and moving throughout, it provides deeply enthralling and powerful philosophical introspection at every moment, brilliantly delivering immensely poignant drama in a small, intimate sphere.
As is always the case with legendary director Ingmar Bergman, this film is filled to the brim with thought-provoking and unique ideas, giving a stunning assessment of life and faith with a combination of riveting philosophical themes and abstract style. But what’s most unique of all in the case of Fanny And Alexander is just how accessible the film is, playing out in a far more conventional fashion to the director’s most famed works, but still delivering the same eye-opening resonance.
A deeply intimate family drama throughout, Fanny And Alexander unfolds patiently and poetically as it introduces you to the many different members of the large, wealthy and fairly stable Ekdahl family, establishing an emotive and relatable context in which to open up its most complex ideas.
Starting off in gorgeous fashion with a wholesome look at the family’s Christmas celebrations, the movie spends its entire 90 minute-long first act with a heartwarming and intimate portrait of a family, brilliantly establishing the story’s main players with natural and patient dialogue scenes that endear you entirely to every member of the Ekdahl family, even with their various idiosyncrasies.
The story really begins in earnest in the second act, as we see the fallout from the unexpected death of Fanny and Alexander’s father, that completely changes the complexion of the film. From a wholesome and warm portrait of family, the story shifts dramatically as we see the Ekdahls’ situation change, and young Fanny and Alexander’s life enter a tumultuous period.
Over the course of the following three acts, the film offers up heartbreaking and devastating drama that sees the family you’ve grown to love so dearly from the start put through hell as they move from their comfortable home into that of a strict, conservative bishop who abuses the children and their mother, all in the name of discipline and the Lord.
A horrifying portrait of a nightmarish existence, the injustice and inhumane severity of the bishop gets right under your skin, and the story begins to slide devastatingly into a pool of hopeless and bleak emotion.
However, just as the family’s situation deteriorates – a far cry from the comfort we saw them revel in during the first act – the movie begins to pick up a unique and powerful air of fantasy and heartfelt philosophical introspection. As tempers fly and the situation become more brutal, director Ingmar Bergman introduces a poetic note of magical realism, brought through the eyes of the imaginative young Alexander, at odds with the conservative bishop.
In that, where the film threatens to fall into a desperately bleak emotional descent, it actually develops a new sense of optimism that slowly breaks through the drama’s harsh surface. Over the course of the film’s five hours, it uniquely transforms from a more straightforward drama into something ingeniously ambiguous, as Bergman’s deeper philosophical themes come to light.
With greater meditative introspection as the film goes on, Fanny And Alexander offers up fascinating and thought-provoking views on life, and with hours of brilliantly developed character depth and intimate drama already behind it, the emotional impact is truly moving.
The film’s accessible nature (compared to many Bergman works) is remarkable, but there are undoubtedly countless eye-opening and multifaceted ideas at play which you can barely scratch the surface of on first viewing. That means it might not be quite as transcendent as you may expect at first, but with greater reflection, the film features a stunningly deep beating heart of enthralling ideas.
It’s a masterful work that develops enormous emotional power from the smallest and most intimate of scales, unfolding gracefully through every moment of its five hours with gorgeous visuals, unique ideas, stunning editing and wholehearted and passionate directing.
Far from a daunting watch, this film is an enthralling epic drama that passes by in an instant. It’s complex and transcendent at its core, although it proves far more accessible than you may expect. But with beautifully intimate emotion, a riveting story and moments of devastating power, none of the film’s 312 minutes prove dull even in the slightest, and that’s why I’m giving Fanny And Alexander a 7.9 overall.