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Fanny and Alexander go boating to drown their sorrows (Ingmar Bergman, 1982) October 25, 2007

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Cine Europa, European Films.

Original Title: Fanny och Alexander
Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman
Cinematography by Sven Nykvist
Cast: Bertil Guve, Pernilla Allwin, Ewa Fröling, Jan Malmsjö, Gunn Wållgren

Glorious from start to finish, its three-hour length notwithstanding, Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander is pure cinematic brilliance. God bless the Swedish Embassy for lending us a spotless 35mm print, so fresh it looks like one of the first reels used when the film had its initial release more than thirty years ago. Every frame of this stunning genius breathes with fragile contradictions: life and death, angels and demons, kindness and cruelty, truths and lies, innocence and guilt, simplicity and extravagance, spirituality and the lack of it. Bergman manages to weave a canvas with such austere mastery and harrowing majesty, it turns wickedness into beauty, so moving one questions the law of emotions if there is even one.

For period pieces are fond of exploiting their exquisite sceneries, ancestral homes, lavish feasts, patios that feel like the most comfortable place on earth, and the royalty of these people whose exaggerated gestures let us feel how much has changed since then, it seems that we already know what will happen in the next stroke of their hands or the fate of a time-bound romance exalted by war. But in Bergman’s universe they are nothing but mere devices, for even if you place his story into a setting more recent, or perhaps during the turn of the millennium, into a world where people are treated like zombies and loved like vultures, one would still feel the plight of Alexander and the entire Ekdahl family, the Bishop’s hypocrisy, and a country in despair behind those grand landscapes and fjords.

The philosophic nature of Bergman is enough to tick someone off and find his way out of the theatre whose exasperated air is shared by pseudo-intellectuals, highbrow socialites, passive moviegoers and, most interesting of all, students who, to their astonishment, leave the cinema with dreary eyes and nausea threatening in a few minutes. When someone watches a film and it ends almost on the day after, one starts to question, and in a brief second wonder, the devotion that he has to cinema. Did he finish the film just because he needs to finish it, while he has all the freedom to leave, or is it an unconscious desire to devote one’s self to a beautiful film till it becomes a habit, an obsession? When darkness spreads its wings like a falcon in flight, it surprises me how Bergman, in almost the same amazement when Tarkovsky visits me in my dreams for a week and too bad it never happened again, looms his virtues with extreme pessimism — a cruelty with passion, a family without its soul, a spirituality without god. This is the only time I enjoyed him, perhaps because I tend not to cross his path — his path to emptiness — and my respect to him now becomes lucid, sadly after his recent death.

The erosion of human soul, the decay of virtues, and the unending search for purpose and existence, Bergman speaks for us: these are nonsense. As I walk my way out of the theatre now filled with silent cries and elusive whispers, the thought of Alexander imagining the death of his stepfather through a fire that burnt him to death still haunts me. And from that door, as if our souls are clearly everywhere, I see Bergman staring at our faces, our wrinkled faces, and studying how they suffered from his film. He is smiling and for a moment I hear myself mumble, What an honor just to see him here. * * * * *



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