Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Fanny and Alexander Part I

Psychoanalysts talk about screen memories, which are distortions of childhood experience that sometimes camouflage other recollections. The viewer of a Bergman movie essentially finds him or herself placed in the position of a child as alternating idyllic and terrifying images are transformed in recollection. This, of course, is something that Bergman’s own characters do, too. In part I of Fanny and Alexander, currently in revival at Film Forum, the grandmother, Helena Ekdahl (Grunn Wallgren), tells Isak Jacobi (Erland Josephson), the film’s resident Jew, and her one-time lover, “the happy splendid life is over.” In fact all that remains is memory, one of which is the time her deceased husband caught them in flagrante—an incident she now refers to as a Feydeau farce. Who knows what it was actually like when Mr. Ekdahl ran for his gun? Her son Oscar (Allan Edwall), the theater manager, remarks to his crew,  “I love the little world inside of this playhouse.” Hamlet, by the way, is the production in the works and a portent of the terrible loss that will soon change all their lives. Bergman is capable of portraying joy, as in the take where Sven Nyqvist’s camera lovingly pans around the Ekdahl Christmas table at which servants dine with their employers. And there’s great comedy and sensuality in portrayal of the relationship between the randy Gustav (Jari Kulle) and Alma (Mona Malme) his self-deprecatingly tolerant wife. But Bergman’s debt to Strindberg is evinced in the brilliance of his depiction of self-hating characters. Carl, the perpetually bankrupt academic asks “how is it that one becomes second rate?” And goes on to tell his stoic German wife, Lydia (Christina Schollin), “I’m most unkind to the creature who cares for me.” The prologue to the movie provides the palette with the camera zooming in on the figurines of a musical clock, the shimmering crystal of an elegant chandelier and the surrealist vista of a statue come to life. Fanny and Alexander is a period piece that begins in l907, but even as the characters occupy themselves with their present lives, they're haunted by their own fates.

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