Fanny And Alexander

An Ingmar Bergman film,

released by Embassy Pictures.

Most of the evidence that cinema can be art comes from outside the English-speaking world. Between films like Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander and commercial offerings that keep one’s mind from serious thought or one’s head in the trough, there is a great gulf fixed. Deep seldom calls to deep in cinema. It does here.

The eye, that glutton for frontiers, finds a feast in the impeccably detailed, lavish world of the Swedish upper class, circa 1912. We meet the Ekdahl family: the matriarchal Helena, the philandering Adolf, the schizoid Carl, the tragic Oscar and his philandering wife Emilie. They, and others in the huge cast, supply a bit of everything: joy and angst, security and fear, beauty and ugliness, love and cruelty, life and death. We see it all through the eyes of Fanny and Alexander, especially the latter, who spins strange yarns to lantern slides late at night.

If Bergman’s Weltanschauung can be seen in theater-manager Oscar’s speeches, or Alexander’s cinematic proclivities, it is even clearer in the second half of the story, which is as cerebral and mystical as the first half is visual. After Oscar’s death, Emilie, for undeveloped reasons, marries Edvard, a bishop. He is a talented, handsome man, but also cruel and vengeful. His house is orderly and austere, and its windows barred; the servants are meddling hags. In this world, one is never sure what is real and what is not. Alexander sees visions of Oscar, like the ghost of Hamlet’s father. Intelligent Christians, who should see this film if they see any at all, will have no trouble decoding the symbolism. It is fascinating to watch a story revolve around the most profound “why?” questions, ...

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