Fanny and Alexander is certainly Bergman’s most joyful film, as well as the most accessible. Though its pace is glacial, and nothing technically happens in the first 90 minutes of the five hour behemoth of an art house masterpiece, every moment in it is worth cherishing. Its long running time is not something to be derisive about, and saying “nothing” happens isn’t technically true. Like an intricate character study, the 90 minutes provide the viewer with an inexorable amount of depth and understanding to the players within the film. The nuance in every scene, the bright colors, and the general jocularity is delightful.
Bergman once said “The stage is my wife and the cinema is my mistress.” Bergman worked frequently on the stage, almost as much on the screen, and every setting and lighting piece shows his expertise of both mediums. While the setting is perhaps more lustrous than a stage could ever really provide, that same sense of wonder and imagination is obvious and painted over every frame.
Young Alexander is Bergman’s autobiographical younger self, too similar to be an alter ego. When his father dies, and his mother chooses to remarry, his life of luxury and of freeness and spirit is taken from him when she marries a puritanical, villainous bishop. Bergman’s mother had at married a similar, cold man, who took raising the young future auteur with a harsh hand.
Due to the closeness of the subject matter, at times, especially as one nears the end of the film, that this may be both a celebration of accomplishment (for it ties in all the wonderful motifs and themes Bergman has used in the past) as well as a means of closure for him; both in terms of exiting the screen (he would continue to work in television) and from his stepfather.
The carefully choreographed movements of the camera and the placement of the characters on screen are inherently the stuff of intellectual fodder. But Bergman’s naturalness and knack for setting, time, and place make it seem pleasant, emotional, sensual, without coming off as pretentious. The bright colors fill the screen and the performances are electrifying all around.
Fanny and Alexander, originally a mini-series in Sweden, is a lustrous and beautiful tapestry, weaving Bergman’s personal and professional history to make intricate and nuanced designs. Innocence is gorgeous in this sensuous, subtle masterpiece.