Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander emerges as a sumptuously produced period piece that is also a rich tapestry of childhood memoirs and moods, fear and fancy, employing all the manners and means of the best of cinematic theatrical from high and low comedy to darkest tragedy with detours into the gothic, the ghostly and the gruesome.
Fanny and Alexander just simply has everything to make it the Bergman feature film that could be remembered longest and most fondly by general audiences when his other, more anguished works, are forgotten by all but the initiated. The five-hour TV version, divided into four parts of uneven length, will thrill even larger audiences.
The well-to-do Ekdahl family in the university city of Uppsala has come together in the widow/grandmother Helena’s house to celebrate Christmas of 1907. Helena (Gunn Wallgren) is a strong-willed but generous woman. She does worry, however, about her theater manager-actor son Oscar (Allan Edwall) who works too hard and is a pretty bad actor, but a good husband for Emilie (Ewa Froling) and father for their two young children Fanny and Alexander.
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The shadows begin to take over when the actor dies and Emilie marries the Uppsala bishop Edvard Vergerus (Jan Malmsjo) who reveals himself to be a sadistic tyrant under his benign surface. The children are imprisoned in an attic, but smuggled to freedom by old Isak (Erland Josephson), a Jewish antique dealer friend of the Ekdahl family.
Fanny and Alexander combines elegance with intimacy. Its moments of shock are surprisingly subdued (the burning to death of the bishop has a dream-like quality), and its obvious nostalgia is tempered with the softest irony and the saltiness of home truths.
The playing throughout reflects the mood of a real-life film family reunion that Bergman’s homecoming to Sweden has been [after a period of self-exile in Munich, following a row with Sweden’s tax authorities in 1976]. The two children perform with quiet authority, totally devoid of any cuteness or lapses into obvious acting. All adult roles are played with a blend of gusto and professionalism.
1982: Best Foreign Language Film