Fanny & Alexander

I watched the 180 minute theatrical cut, not the five hour TV series, and it still felt a bit too long to me. The bagginess is front-loaded in a very detailed depiction of Christmas where the different characters are introduced. The actual first scene is intriguing: Alexander's imagination is activated while he's wandering around the empty house looking for his family. He calls out the names in a way that echoes the bedtime prayers he and his sister recite every night. But in the silence which greets his calls, he fantasises that a statue moves instead. At the end of the film, Alexander's God is revealed to be a monstrous puppet. Collective religious myths are replaced by individual inspiration.

I just wish we jumped a bit more quickly to the standout scenes. Some of the flab (particularly the scenes shot on location with extras) could definitely have been cut away. But there is a lot to treasure here: Alexander's father gives an extraordinary speech at the beginning (echoed by his uncle at the end) summing up Bergman's views on the purpose of art - a way to explore or escape from suffering, both aims being of equal worth. Helena's account of performance sounds like Bergman's final statement on the way we change masks through our lives, like actors do. The great scene between the Bishop and Emelie where she reveals why she loves him - the emptiness of the theatrical life leaving a yearning for the certainties and strictures of a religious one. The climactic phantasmagorical sequence in which Alexander's stories merge with that of the film. And the final gut punch where the ghost of Alexander's stepfather introduces himself.

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