BP’s Top 100 Movie Challenge #38: Fanny and Alexander, by Sarah Brinks
I decided to undertake a movie challenge in 2017. This seemed like a good way to see some classic movies that I have unfortunately never seen. The Battleship Pretension Top 100 list provided such a challenge.
I watched the theatrical version of Fanny and Alexander, a shortened version of its full five-hour television version. Even then, the film was still over three hours. Though it was long, I did enjoy it. While the film is a fascinating family drama, I was most interested in the film when it was a ghost story.
I knew from the beginning that the family was too happy. I have seen too many Ingmar Bergman films, and I knew there needed to be some suffering. When Fanny and Alexander’s father Oscar had a stroke and died, I knew that would be the catalyst to change. I could also tell from the funeral scene that the creepy bishop was interested in Emilie, their mother.
As I mentioned, I was most interested in Fanny and Alexander when it was a ghost story. After Oscar dies, both children see their father sitting at a piano. Any time he showed up later in the story it signaled a critical moment for Alexander. It was strange though, Fanny only sees him the one time but the grandmother also sees him once. If it wasn’t for that, I would assume Alexander had just imagined it. But the film doubles down at the end when the Bishop’s ghost shows up and tells Alexander that he will never be free of him. It is ominous and sad but at least they are back with their proper family again and out of the horrible house they lived in when Emilie was married to him.
I found it interesting that the play the theater is putting on when Oscar dies is Hamlet, another ghost stories of parents and children. Even more interesting is the scene they are rehearsing. Oscar plays the dead King Hamlet and is explaining how his brother murdered him and took away his queen and crown. There are a lot of parallels to what happens later in the film. Oscar does die and his wife remarries quickly and his children suffer as a result. I don’t know if that is more obvious or less in the longer version of the film, but I enjoyed it in the theatrical version.
I liked the performances for the most part. The children did a good job, especially later in the film when they had to deal with the difficult stepfather. The grandmother played by Gunn Wållgren was probably my favorite character. She understood her children and grandchildren and handled them with a clear matriarchal hand. She was also emotional without being hysterical. The one character I didn’t understand at all was Ismael. The actress playing him was clearly a woman and she seemed to be supernatural in some way, but it wasn’t clear and it left me confused. The other performance I didn’t love was Jarl Kulle as Gustav Adolf Ekdahl. He always felt like was over the top in every scene and the performance didn’t really work for me.
I like watching foreign films because I like to learn about new cultures, and I don’t know a lot about Swedish culture. The fact that the film was starts at Christmas meant we get to see some of the Swedish Christmas traditions and I really enjoyed that. Overall, I liked the film but even the shorter theatrical version suffered from over length.
I’ve decided to rate each film using an arbitrary scale based on the board game Battleship (lowest: Destroyer, Submarine, Cruiser, Battleship, highest: Carrier)
Fanny and Alexander ranking: Cruiser