Top positive review
70 people found this helpful
Bergman's Final Masterpiece?
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!