on 9 May 2005
Please note that this is a review of the Criterion Collection five-hour television version, released on five DVDs.
The Film: If you have found your way here among the Amazon listings, then it is unlikely that you do not already know that this is one of the finest productions ever committed to film. No superlatives can exaggerate the brilliance and depth of "Fanny and Alexander". Here are Bergman and Nykvist working at the absolute height of their powers to produce the warmest, most visually rich and profound storytelling that they have ever given us. It is not as bleak as some of Bergman's earlier films (although there are some disturbing scenes) but the overall impact is uplifting and deeply moving. This is an unusual film that uses a large cast to tell the intricate story of an extended theatrical family in Uppsala in the early years of the 20th century. All of this is seen through the eyes of the two children; the Fanny and Alexander of the title. I saw the film on its' first release more than 20 years ago in both the emasculated theatrical release and in the five hour version made for Swedish television. I was stunned by it then and have been bowled over by it once again in this wonderful new release.
The DVD: I was amazed to find what else was included in this set when it arrived, as the description gave few clues. The presentation of the films is faultless; a real labour of love. The sound is superb and the whole thing has a visual beauty that is extraordinary. Even the Main Menus are finely done, in keeping with the tone and mood of the films themselves. The English subtitles seem good; although not perfectly accurate and Americanised in places. Not only do you get the complete five-hour television version on two discs (in four episodes) but you also get the complete theatrical version on another single disc. The five-hour version is unequivocally the one to watch. If the length bothers you, view it a bit at a time as four separate episodes. This is probably the best way to see the film, but I have to say that even at one sitting it doesn't seem long at all. I have sat through films of a fraction of the length that seemed much longer. The theatrical release cuts out the soul of the story. It seems a very odd idea to include it alongside the complete version, but this is probably to allow purchasers the chance to enjoy the extras. You might want to watch it for a fascinating and scholarly exposition by Peter Cowie (but only after you have watched the longer version). You certainly wouldn't want to watch it for the dubbing in American English! I'm afraid that I have never seen a dubbed foreign-language film that wasn't unwatchable and this is no exception.
So what's on the two additional discs? I will not list everything but within the cornucopia is Bergman's own illuminating "Making of ..." documentary, an equally intriguing interview with Nils Petter Sundgren that is roughly contemporary with the film and Bergman's recently-recorded (2003) introductions to several of his finest films. The discs are Region 1 NTSC encoded, so you need a suitable player and TV. The slip case and packaging are exceptional. Given the reservations expressed in earlier reviews about Artificial Eye's presentation of this film, you might want to explore this version.
I recommend this film, and particularly this superlative edition, unreservedly. Here is a true masterpiece of European cinema that has hardly been shown in our cinemas or on television. This is also a film so visually and thematically rich that it repays repeated viewings. Surely the best possible reason for owning a DVD player!
on 5 March 2002
Ingmar Bergman's multi-award winning film "Fanny & Alexander" is captured for the first time on DVD, and in it's complete 5 hour version. Widely considered his masterpiece, and for good reason, "Fanny & Alexander" is a magical depiction of childhood and family life, as told through the eyes of a young brother and sister whose parents are a renowned Theatre director and actress in Sweden circa 1900. Shot by the great Sven Nykvist, who won his second Oscar for Cinematography (the other was "Cries & Whispers"), "Fanny & Alexander" is a film of enduring warmth, humanity and humour and is in many ways the best introduction to Ingmar Bergman's work I could imagine. A stunning masterpiece rightfully presented in it's full glory on a crisply balanced DVD transfer, "Fanny & Alexander" is a treasure to behold.
It's now twenty years or so since I first saw this, yet scenes, feelings, images and ideas from it still float into view when I'm least expecting. Love,beauty,family, fear and dread, and a little bit of magic. This is not just a feast, it is a banquet - for the eyes, for the heart, soul and intellect.
A town square in the snow dotted with fresh, bright flowers - so beautiful an image that I remember almost gasping when it appeared on screen.
One the 20th century's greatest artists(in any field), working with one of the greatest cinematographers of all time - and performances that just stay with you. You will never be quite the same - but then, that's the whole point.
on 22 June 2004
Bergman's filmography goes beyond rules from the very start. He pushed himself and his actors above the boundaries then thought to be feasible. Books have been written. Extensive theses throughout the world. Huge amounts of ink spent on Bergman's work. Insights in the mind of a genius not always well understood nor loved by many.
But, pairing with one of the finest cinematographers of all times, he concocted many of the strongest brews in the history of cinema.
Fanny och Alexander may be his Masterpiece. He devouted uncounted hours to take this film where no other has ever even tried to go. Painstankingly crafted scenes and shots that may have, sometimes, been rehearsed an insane number of times, deliver a creepy, light and luminous, dark and incredibly finely woven tapestry of ideas in one film.
This work from Bergman can be and is, indeed, a benchmark to understand writing, storytelling, lighting, film sensitivity, bleach process, artistic performance, emotional shifts, colour and subtle sound recording.
The first time I saw this film was in 1986 on tv. I was quite young and I sat through five hours just wanting more. Longing... craving for more.
I searched for the film for years and couldn't find a copy, except for the original theatrical release, but I didn't want it. It was incomplete. In 2002 I found the dvd. Now, I know almost every line by heart. My students know it very well and, most amazing thing, they love it over many, many other films that show more recent technology. We go through the five hours with one "intermission" for tea or coffee, exchanging ideas and predicting where the story will go in the next chapters.
The output has always been the same: there's no film like this one. It excels in every small detail. It has some of the greatest actors ever in Sweden. Even Gunnar Johansson, ill, and old, gave all his strenght to his singing in one of the most moving theatre scenes in the film.
The chidren are superb. But Bertil Guve's part IS the film. His depiction of Bergman as a child is absolutely superb. Beyond any film with a lad carrying such a load on his shoulders. His anger, his fears, his desperation transpire Bergman's most ambitious project in a way that will make you laugh, cry or simply feel exhausted.
I don't want to finish without saying a word about Sven Nyvqist and music. Sven shot many Bergman's films and was his right hand. Bergman always considered his opinions as key decisions to make his films more gripping. Nyvqist deftly uses light and textures as no other cinematographer has ever done.
The score for this film is as essential as cinematography. An issue thet always was a most for Bergman.
If you want to live one of the most rewarding cinematographic experiences of your life, buy this film. You won't be dissapointed.
on 16 April 2006
Bergman's "last film" (he came out of his cinematic retirement in 2003 to make Saraband, a follow-up to Scenes from a Marriage), which he himself described as "the sum total of my life as a film-maker" is the semi-autobiographical story of a year in the life of a well-off middle-class theatrical family. The length of the film is undoubtedly daunting, but this five-hour cut was the version shown on Swedish television (the cinema release was only three hours, but Berman wasn't happy with the cuts he had to make to get it down to that length), and is in four episodes each of just over an hour and so can be watched in 2 or 4 more manageable sittings. This is a beautiful and tender film which brings together all the main themes Bergman had been exploring throughout his nearly 40-year career in the cinema, and was his personal favourite of all the films he made.
on 11 June 2011
Bergman's Fanny and Alexander is a masterpiece not to be missed! But there are two versions of the film, the 5 hour TV version and the 3 hour cinematic version. The latter was made solely to help finance the complete film and is no match for the complete version. In fact there is no reason why the short version should be on DVD at all - so go for the long version or the box sets containing both versions.
I saw the 5 hour preferred version,which was how it was released on tv(like Scenes from a Marriage) instead of the 3 hour theatrical version.made as his swansong to his film career.He imbues childhood with all the warmth and magic he possibly could.This film could have been called merely 'Alexander' but as it stands she is his ear,foil and sister in solidarity. Bergman has made a semi-autobiographical film only he has changed the order of things around a bit.He came from a severe Lutheran background in which he was very repressed by his pastor father.In the film he is not born into this family,it is his step-family,that his mother marries into when her actor husband dies. The children having formerly come from a big extended bohemian family of actors have to suffer the rigours of their new,cruel Pastor father who chastises them to separate truth from fiction.The contrast between the old household of the heart and the new household with it's tones of black and white couldn't be more different.The children are helped to escape in a chest by a friend of the family.The mother-by now pregnant- can only get away later after sedating her husband.The large family is reunited and babies are born,one to a maid by a philandering uncle.The pastor dies in a house fire.You feel in this film although Bergman speaks of God,faith and utilizes ghosts he has cast out the tormenting demons of his youth as he glorifies the magic of art and the imagination.The tone throughout is light hearted,the colour schemes are beautiful and the cinematograhy exquisite.An actress-Harriet Anderson-plays an elderly nanny who scares the young siblings with frightening stories.The lady who plays the grandmother is a famous Interpreter of Stindberg who gets to read for a part in his 'Dreamplay' in the closing scene with young Alexander lying on her lap.this can be compared to the best of Bergman and placed alongside the two trilogies.
on 6 March 2002
This is Ingmar Bergman at his best and most accessible.The film literally glows and the DVD version does this quality justice.
It is a very long film (5 hours), so watch it over two sessions. I guarantee after watching the first disc you will hardly be able to wait to see the second. One can only echo the quote from The Times 'Extraordinary cinematic magic'.
Surely it ranks besides the finest films ever made.
on 24 February 2004
Having very little basis for comparison (since my only prior exposure to Bergman has been The Seventh Seal and Scenes From a Marriage), I don't feel qualified to judge this film against a "Bergman standard," but I do, however, doubt that he has directed another movie as perfect as Fanny and Alexander (F&A), although Scenes From a Marriage is close. Classic movies tha are great on the whole may suffer from bad acting, directing, or even whole scenes that briefly go out of focus. That, however, is not the case with this film. It draws one in and keeps one alert and interested throughout. The directing and acting is mostly superb.
The story revolves around a wealthy Swedish family who run the local theater in Uppsala, and the severe upbringing of siblings F&A in the early 1900's (the story begins on Christmas, 1907).
Bergman seems to have a unique talent for combining drama with horror, fantasy, and comedy--this I also found to be the case with The Seventh Seal, but in F&A, this talent is more strongly presented; one minute you can find yourself laughing at humorous --sometimes obscene-- acts and remarks, and the next you may find yourself feeling choked up or horrified. The film is very strong, very real, and strongly recommended to anyone who wants to experience looking at film on a whole new level.
I hate not being able to give this movie five stars, but I can't because of Artificial Eye's unprofessional presentation of it. The movie itself merits full points - 100/100, but the quality of the DVD doesn't. This is the only release of the five hour (TV) version of the film yet. It is the three hour (theatrical/VHS) release that has won the Oscars, Golden Globe, Guldbagge, and BAFTA awards, but I strongly recommend the longer version - the story makes more sense. Five hours still doesn't feel too long. I could watch a five-day long version of this movie. The additional two hours were added to the theatrical release, by Bergman, for the TV-series "Fanny och Alexander". In the making of this film, TWENTY-FOUR hours of film footage was shot from the actual script, so there are still NINETEEN hours of unreleased footage from this film, that will probably never be released. Anyhow, the first copy I bought of Artificial Eye's release was defective. There was a synchronization problem throughout a whole 80+ minute chapter. I had to buy another one to see it in its entirety. I contacted Artificial Eye about the problem to determin whether this was the case with all their F&A discs, or whether I had just received a defective copy. I wrote three times, but never heard back from them.
Artificial Eye have not done a good restoration job of this film. All bass and treble disappears from the sound for about ten or fifteen minutes in the middle of chapter one. The sound can be very shaky at times. I have the three-hour version of this film restored by a Swedish company, in which both sound and picture are MUCH more acceptable. Another big problem with this disc is that the subtitles AREN'T optional! My mother tounge is Swedish, but I speak English fairly well. The subtitles bothered me, they were in the way, plus I found the translation to be very inaccurate at times. I suspect a lot of good points could be lost for someone who does not understand Swedish. Only every 10th or 20th curse word was translated throughout the film.
If you have the patience to wait for another company to release this "full" version - do it. If not, don't expect too much out of this. Technology has developed beyond Artificial Eye's presentation.
I cannot complete this review without giving affectionate appreciation to my friend Karen for recommending The Seventh Seal, thus inspiring me to watch this film--thank you.
on 18 December 2009
It was several years since I watched Fanny & Alexander. Now re-watching it on this new DVD it struck me that there are more magical realism than I remembered. And now I recognised more well known swedish actors, like Harriet Andersson (Summer with Monica) in an unusual role as a shady servant. Of course, watching it on a huge screen (projector) instead of a 28" TV makes a difference as this film contains a lot of details, like panoramas of early 19th century apartments cluttered with furniture and people. The new (2009) DVD from Tartan doesn't have any extra material or booklet. And be warned that this is the 180 min movie version, not the longer TV version. But the important thing is that the transfer/picture of the DVD is excellent with nice colours and sharpness. Strongly recommended, but if you absolutely need the TV version you should go for the (much more expensive) Criterion DVD.