Ingmar Bergman‘s Fanny och Alexander is not just a pretty gilded portrait of a well to do Swedish family, the Ekdahls, who face constant threats towards its dissolution. Interpretations of this movie are boundless, whether we’re looking at it in terms of class, religion, life reflecting art, human fortitude and intentionally terrible child rearing.
I also see the widowed actress Emilie Ekdahl’s (Ewa Froeling) second marriage to Bishop Edvard Vergerus (Jan Malmsjo) and their inevitably toxic relationship as a metaphor for the austere nature of mourning.
Critics have applauded the film’s lack of neuroses but let’s be tools and look at it in that perspective anyway. Besides, this is about Emilie’s son Alexander’s (Bertil Guve) childhood and the events in that stage of his life will be the one he would most likely recall as a functioning yet fractured adult would. The spirit of Alexander’s father Oscar first appears while playing the piano and seems to rest after he gives his son advice. What haunts me the most is when Edvard visits Alexander. As if by helping killing Edvard off – there’s a part of me that wants that scene remade so that I can see what Jessica Chastain, who so really needs more work, can do as Ishmael, Alexander’s mystical ally – Alexander replaces his father with his strict stepfather. ‘The horrible, dirty life engulfs us’ as Alexander’s grandmother Helene says as she wipes her tears and leans on her Jewish paramour Isak Jacobi (Erland Josephson). But the Ekdahls are a well-natured bunch and their happy moments cushion the movie’s scary message.