Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Children's Book Of Hauntings

Fanny And Alexander(1982)
Directed by Ingmar Bergman

The first half of the movie seemed so light and inconsequential, I was tempted to turn it off. Later I realized the carefree beginnings were there to contrast with the second half, were the movie really begins.
By the time of the fathers collapse, during the performance of Hamlet, it picks up in a very satisfying way. "I can play the ghost now".
There are some problems though, most obviously the title, Fanny is essentially furniture to this story of primarily Alexander, and maybe his grandmother.

Also the androgynous Ismael was a bit of a dissapointment, how many evil, dangerous, malicious androgynous characters are used in films purely to equate sexual ambiguity with dysphoria, the persian king in "300", Satan, in Mel Gibson's "Passion", etc.
However at the other end of things, the scene where Alex encounters God, is not just irony and schock(though it has both values), but an astute theological observation, reminding me of the only Deridda quote that ever really stood out to me, about how "One cant name one's monsters, because naming them instantly reduces them to pets.", a thousand bad horror films can attest to that, and if you replace, "name" with "see", and "pets" with "puppets", and "monsters" with "God" it works here as well.
In the long run though, this does feel like Bergamn's most mature effort, like Tartovsky's "The Sacrifice",(also that directors last film, which was a bit like a Bergman film too, come to think of it), rose above typical euro art film tragic cynicism, with a helpful dose of late in the game magic realism. Magical Jews save the day!
But this magic isnt just the result of a need for a happy ending, but a crucial statement about how to get out of the pit of the despair, that so many of Bergman's earlier characters find themselves hopelessly trapped in.
When all else fails it takes the impossible and the absurd sometimes to balance things, if only momentarily.
At the end Alex is still haunted as he probably always will be, but perhaps in time he can, in another way, learn come to make a pet of his ghosts.
I only watched the three hour version though(apparently there's a 5 hour one....), so its possible and likely I am completely off, but that's what I got out of it.
It's not perfect, but it's engrossing, effective, unique, and charming. And not at all as wierd I make it out to seem, not at first anyway.
A simple story about some kids whose father dies, the mother remaries and they are all unhappy untill....
Also a brief cameo from a glow in the dark mummy.

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