Borderlands (Zev Berman, 2007): 6.5/10

The Magic Flute (Ingmar Bergman, 1975): 7/10

La Guerre Est Finie (Alain Resnais, 1966): 7/10

Speed Racer (The Wachowski Brothers, 2008): 8/10

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Friday, November 03, 2006

Fanny & Alexander (Ingmar Bergman, 1982)

Touted by some as Bergman's best, and even the best European film of all time, I was excited to check out Fanny & Alexander. Although I do still like The Seventh Seal better, this movie had much more than I expected, namely, meditations on good and evil, magic and religion, and even an evil stepfather! Plus, there's a fart lighting scene, which I think is the only one in Criterion Collection history. But all silliness (and this movie certainly has its intentional silly moments) aside, the layers upon layers of reality and the portrayal of both the grim and joyous sides of life make this a must-see.

The titular characters are children of Oscar and Emilie Ekdahl, the owners of a small Swedish theater, and the film begins at a Christmas celebration soon after the turn of the (20th) century at the Ekdahl matriarch's house. The first hour is about the family: the men's indiscretions, the wife's acceptance, the maids (especially Maj, Oscar's mistress and the children's nanny), and the secrets a family shares and hides. Soon, however, the peace is broken by Oscar's death. The scene of his death is one of the most touching scenes I can remember, both because of Oscar's pledge of eternal love to his wife and children and because of Alexander's raw, childlike fear of his father's death. After Oscar's death, Emilie remarries, and everything more or less goes wrong. The family goes to live with Emilie's new husband, the bishop who has had several wives already, one of which died with her children in suspicious circumstances (of which Alexander has vision, which he recalls nightmarishly and leads to even more nightmarish consequences from the bishop). He is truly an evil stepfather, someone who forces Emilie to leave her entire life behind, yet does not reveal his true self until it's too late. At this point, the film turns metaphysical and philosophical, and to give any more details would ruin the surprises.

I was expecting a quiet tale about a family, as that's what Bergman does best, and instead I got this beautiful epic that incorporates evil with good and magic with God. Several scenes were simply stupendous, such as Alexander's punishment by the bishop. Bertil Guve, who plays the pre-adolescent Alexander, was at first a typical annoying boy, but then becomes a brave, sly boy who stands up for himself and his family, no matter what the cost. Younger Pernilla Allwin, who plays Fanny, is given little to do, but when she is in center stage, shines. My favorite performance of the film, however, belongs to Ewa Froling as Emilie, the Ekdahl mother who does anything to give her children a better life, no matter where it takes her. She is strong even when she cannot afford to be, and reminds me of the wonderful women in my life.

The only problem I have with this film is the length. Although I only rented the three hour version (there is also a five hour television version), I felt it to be a bit long for me. This is the magic of Bergman, making these people's lives expansive and epic, but I have trouble paying attention for so long at times (blame the MTV generation, I guess). A wonderful film, but can be trying for those impatient, as I can be. If you are, give it a rent anyway, I promise, like me, you won't regret it at all.


RIYL: any of Bergman's other films, really!

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