Bergman has never been a director that I instantly warmed up to. Sadly, I have never actually been able to finish one of his films before turning them off; that is until now. Fanny and Alexander is a towering behemoth of a film clocking in around five hours that I found to be a lot more inviting (more than one may suspect judging by its immense length) than his previous films which were impenetrable to me.
Part ghost story, part family saga, this is an epic story in the grandest sense that deals with deeply complex philosophical debates of human existence and universal truths/falsities all seen through the eyes of children; or more specifically, Alexander. I'm not sure why his sister Fanny is included in the title since her role is very small and many of the key scenes revolve around the perspective of the young boy Alexander but that is besides the point. Bergman shapes his film around the innocence of children in order to tackle some very heavy subject matter such as death, religion (more specifically the existence or non-existence of God) and relationships. I am now beginning to see the clearer picture as to why Woody Allen is so attracted to Bergman's work and he may have borrowed a little conventional wisdom and influence from this particular film especially in relation to his 1986 masterpiece Hannah and her Sisters.
A film of striking beauty with elaborate set design, props and costumes, Bergman's use of mise-en-scene is breathtaking. His camera-work is nothing short of extroardinary as it gracefully flows throughout the massive corridors and rooms of the Matriarch's mansion (where most of the story-action takes place) but he also shows great restraint using extended long-takes mostly when it comes to characters giving monologues or to intensely focus on important story-action. The cinematography by long time collaborator Sven Nykvist is simply gorgeous adding a vibrant palette of color schemes to suit the atmosphere which undergoes a dramatical shift between the first and second half of the film.
A unique experience unlike anything else, Fanny and Alexander takes on a spirtual illusiveness whereas one side of my brain was trying to follow the plot and its vast array of characters (Dickens would be proud) while the other side was intensely focused on deciphering and debating the religious connotations suggested by Monsieur Bergman that seemed to transcend time and space. I don't particularly recommend watching this film in one sitting because it can be exhausting albeit an exhilirating one at that. At the end my brain felt completely wracked and a shifting perspective of life itself had invariably taken place. Worthy of the utmost praise, Bergman has crafted a beautiful and existentially profound film with the utmost care that only a true-master of the medium can. A fucking masterpiece if I ever saw one.