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Fanny and Alexander (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on December 29, 2013

I’ve already written about this four times.  I’m pretty happy with my last review, so this will just be a few odds ‘n’ ends.  I showed the movie (the television version) to my girlfriend over the course of several nights.  At first she wasn’t too into it… which is perfectly fine, but I was feeling guilty about potentially wasting five hours of her time on something she wasn’t enjoying.  But when Vergerus showed up, she got hooked.  It occurs to me how meandering the first part of the film must seem to someone who doesn’t know what’s coming.  There’s no real dramatic conflict until the bishop steps in, it’s a bunch of people having a good time and Carl being a jagoff to his poor wife.  If you’re dealing with a less patient viewer, the television version is a pretty hard sell.  So maybe the theatrical version, as hamstrung as it is, has a useful purpose in converting the reluctant.

I just got Bergman’s book Images: My Life in Film for Xmas.  There are a few interesting tidbits in the chapter about F&A.  He says that the two “godfathers” of the movie are E.T.A. Hoffmann (for his sense of wonder and the magical) and Charles Dickens (which is where all the bleakness and archetypal characters come from).  The original treatment features “Anton” and “Maria”, with Maria being the elder and more dominant figure.  He at first wanted to cast Ingrid Bergman as the grandmother.  I can’t help thinking that would be a disaster.  Gunn Wållgren’s performance is one of my favorite aspects of the film.

He finds the movie enigmatic, just as I do.  I still have little idea of how to interpret the Ismael character, a very baffling figure.  Bergman writes of him: “In Isak’s house lives an idiot with the face of an angel, a thin, fragile body, and colorless eyes that see all.  He is able to do evil.  He is like a membrane for wishes that quivers with the slightest touch.”   There is a sense from his memoirs that in many ways the film wrote itself, or that he let his id guide his hand.  At times it is a childlike, exaggerated vision of the world, full of magic and larger-than-life heroes and villains.

In his first pass at editing the theatrical cut, he thought he had a two and a half hour version… he ended up with four hours.  “What a shock!  I had always given myself credit for having an excellent sense of time and timing.”  He makes it very clear that he prefers the longer version, but even of that he says: “Watching it today, I see that the long version could have been trimmed down half an hour to forty minutes without anyone noticing it.”  Perhaps… well, certainly.  But I’m so glad he didn’t do that.  I can think of very very few minutes that I don’t cherish.

The line “Let us be happy while we are happy” still brings a lump to my throat.  Rating: Masterpiece (100)


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