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Fanny and Alexander Movie Review

ekdahl bergman film family

1983 – Ingmar Bergman –

Ingmar Bergman's wonderful movie swan song and semi-autobiography opens with the Ekdahl family in 1907 Sweden. The first forty minutes or so show us a family on Christmas, as the wise matriarch (Gunn Wallgren) waits for her three sons, their wives, and children to arrive. The large, lavishly appointed house all but glows with warmth. Many of these events are shown through the eyes of Alexander (Bertil Guve), the ten-year-old son of Oscar Ekdahl (Allan Edwall).

Bergman presents the family's humanity as a force of life-affirming power. Even the visit of Alexander's uncle Gustav (Jarl Kulle) to the room of the young maid Maj (Pernilla August) is tolerated by his wife Alma (Mona Maim), who knows the dalliances of her foolish billy-goat husband will not diminish his love for her or their sex life. The tone and focus change when shortly after Christmas Alexander's father dies following a rehearsal at the theater the family has worked in for so many generations. Now the focus falls on the life-denying nature of the home Alexander and his sister Fanny (Pernilla Allwin) are taken to when their mother marries a strict Lutheran bishop (Jan Malmsjo). The first meeting between Alexander and the man who will become his stepfather turns into a virtual interrogation of the boy; the Bishop's house is coldly white and austerely furnished. The conflict between Bishop Vergerus and Alexander reaches a head when he beats the boy, and the rest of the Ekdahls must use their wits to rescue the mother and her two children from the Bishop's house.

Bergman fills the film with the sort of family details, both joyful and painful, that remain stored in the recesses of the mind forever, and these privileged moments impart great emotional richness and truth. Most of them concern Alexander: his shaking fear over his father's death; his sneaking out of bed at night to play with his magic lantern; Alexander listening to the soul-rending screams of his mother after his father's death; Alexander's muttered curses as he walks in his father's funeral procession; the cold metal thimble on the finger of the aunt as she holds Alexander down while his stepfather canes him; and the loving servant Maj's ability to decode as a plea for help Alexander's formal postcard about visiting the botanical gardens with his stepfather. Such big and small details imbue the story with the fullness of life. The film blends the non-realistic (ghosts and visions) with the realistic as it celebrates family and imagination and affirms the importance of safe havens like the little worlds of the family and the theater as a shelter from the coldness and uncertainty of the bigger world.

Cast: Gunn Wallgren (Helena Ekdahl), Borje Ahlstedt (Carl Ekdahl), Ewa Froling (Emilie Ekdahl), Christina Schollin (Lydia Ekdahl), Bertil Guve (Alexander Ekdahl), Pernilla Allwin (Fanny Ekdahl), Allan Edwall (Oscar Ekdahl), Jarl Kulle (Gustav-Adolph Ekdahl), Mona Maim (Alma Ekdahl), Jan Malmsjo (Bishop Edvard Vergerus), Kerstin Tidelius (the Bishop's sister), Erland Josephson (Isak Jacobi), Kristian Almgren (Putte), Harriet Andersson (Justina), Pernilla August (Maj), Anna Bergman (Hanna Schwartz), Kabi Laretei (Aunt Anna), Sonya Hedenbratt (Aunt Emma), Svea Holst (Miss Ester), Mats Bergman (Aron), Gunnar Bjornstrand (Filip Landahl), Stina Ekblad (Ismael), Siv Ericks (Alida), Majlis Granlund (Miss Vega), Maria Granlund (Petra), Lena Olin (maid) Screenwriter: Ingmar Bergman Cinematographer: Sven Nykvist Composer: Daniel Bell, Benjamin Britten, Frans Helmerson, Marianne Jacobs Producer:Jorn Donner for Svenska Filminstitutet MPAA Rating: R Running Time: 197 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Academy Awards, 1983: Art Direction/Set Decoration, Costume Design, Foreign Language Film, Cinematography; Nominations: Director (Ingmar Bergman), Screenplay; Cesar Awards 1984: Foreign Film; Golden Globe Awards 1984: Foreign Film; Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards 1983: Cinematography, Foreign Film; New York Film Critics Awards 1983: Director (Ingmar Bergman), Foreign Film.

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