Friday, December 3, 2010

#262: Fanny and Alexander (TV Version)

(Ingmar Bergman, 1982)

Watching this four-and-a-half-hour masterpiece, I was reminded of one of the great tragedies of cinema, the (as far as we know) complete destruction of Orson Welles's original cut of The Magnificent Ambersons. The surviving 90-minute version of the follow-up to Citizen Kane is still one of the great films of the 40s, and inevitably what had been done with the original cut would have been even more impressive.

Welles had complete artistic freedom when he made The Greatest Film of All Time, but the rest of his career basically consisted of him being shit on by everyone in the industry. Bergman had a much more conventional experience for a master director, so thankfully, by the time his swan song rolled around, he had been given free rein on his films for decades. This allowed him to create both a three-hour theatrical version of the film (which won Best Foreign Film, Bergman's third) and this full-length version. Based on the cuts described, I can't fathom preferring the shorter edition of the film, as some of the cuts seem to sink to the core of the film's strengths.

The movie itself is ridiculously confident, touching upon nearly all of Bergman's most recognizable themes. But it's also Bergman's warmest and most nostalgic movie, reflecting fondly upon a simulacrum of his childhood. There are certainly dark, even harrowing, moments, most notably the scene of Emilie wailing in the night after the death of her husband and the riveting scene of the showdown between Alexander and the bishop. But they are countered with the joyous banquets that bookend the film and a sense of mystery and playfulness that shines with the love of film, which is to say the love of entertainment, discovery, trickery.

I thought of The Magician, Smiles of a Summer Night, Winter Light, The Silence, Wild Strawberries, and The Seventh Seal while watching Fanny and Alexander, and I'm sure subsequent viewings would add to that list. Plenty of people have recognized or posited that the film is a sort of autobiography of Bergman, but when they say that they are often speaking of the director's childhood. Clearly there are moments that confirm this, but I think the film is far more relevant to his later years, the years of his career as a filmmaker. It makes for a rare opportunity to experience the summation of a great career within a compelling and memorable story that stands on its own.

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