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The Scrivener: Fanny and Alexander - 3

Brian Barratt continues his fascinating series of articles on Ingmar Bergman’s 'Fanny and Alexander', one of the most memorable films ever made.

Brian’s words, written with love, in admiration, will make you eager to see the film – or, if you have already seen it, to watch it againwith "new'' eyes.

Do visit Brian’s invigorating Web site The Brain Rummager www.alphalink.com.au/~umbidas/

The Extended Family

Ingmar Bergman's memorable film 'Fanny and Alexander' moves from the Prologue to 'The Ekdahl family celebrates Christmas'. What a celebration it is! The only people who feel uncomfortable are two of the kitchen servants who are ill at ease sitting at the same table as the family, but that is the way the Ekdahls do things — everyone is equal, everyone is welcome, everyone is loved.

The lavish dinner is followed by one of the merriest conga type dances we are likely to see on film, exuberant in its joy. Alas, this joy will be shattered as the year proceeds.

It will take a while for the viewer to sort out who's who. A mere list of names would be tedious to read, so a few teasers are sprinkled in what follows here:

- Helena Ekdahl is the matriarch of the clan. Her late husband founded the small theatre which is now managed by one of her sons. She does not dominate or 'rule', but her time-worn kindly face reflects authority and wisdom. We learn of one of her past relationships and meet the intriguing, wise and mysterious gentleman concerned. Isak Jacobi plays a magical role towards the end of the story.

- Oscar Ekdahl is the son who manages the theatre and acts in its productions. Unlike his brothers, he is a gentle soul, a devoted husband, and a generously understanding father. His kind face has a touch of sadness which is much in evidence when he appears on several occasions later... as a ghost.

- Emilie Ekdahl is Oscar's beautiful wife. She and her children will become the central characters as the real story unfolds. After she has been widowed she allows herself to be seduced by a handsome but horrible bishop. When eventually trying to escape from his clutches, she plays an unwitting part in his grim death.

- Alexander Ekdahl, aged 10, is the son of Oscar and Emilie. He is fascinated by theatre, not only on the real stage of the family theatre but also in his toy theatre, his magic lantern, and his flights of fancy. His imagination will get him into dreadful trouble when the dominating bishop becomes his step-father. To play this role, Ingmar Bergman chose Bertil Guve, a sensitive young actor aged about 12 who resembled himself as a boy.

- Fanny Ekdahl is Alexander's younger sister. She seems to play a minor role and has very little to say. At least one reviewer has said that the film should have been called, simply, 'Alexander'. This, however, indicates a misunderstanding of her relationship to her brother. She is always there, a feminine presence with her brother, watching, observing, sharing his fate, and with her eyes giving him tacit support. For every male in the story there is a female who plays a counterbalancing or conflicting role in his life.

- Gustav Adolf Ekdahl, Oscar's brother, is a luxuriously whiskered extrovert. He is quick to show his pleasure, and also his anger in a later scene where he confronts the scheming bishop Edvard Vergerus. His wife happily tolerates his infidelity and, in particular, his affair with Maj, the Ekdahl nursemaid, a vivacious girl with a pronounced limp.

- Carl Ekdahl, Oscar's other brother, has a growing dislike of his German wife, whom he comes to despise. He is also in constant financial trouble. However, in the later scene where Gustav Adolf becomes angry when dealing with the bishop, Carl is very much more conciliatory.

These two brothers might seem to be involved in sub-plots unrelated to the main story of Alexander and Fanny, but they tell us much about success and failure in human relationships. As such, they are intrinsic to the experiences of the children.

© Copyright Brian Barratt 2008


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