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Blu-ray Review Fanny and Alexander Blu-ray Review

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Matt Hough, Nov 7, 2011.

  1. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Director
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    Fanny and Alexander is Ingmar Bergman’s memory film; it’s not just a partly autobiographical reminiscence of his childhood, but it’s also filled with memories of themes, characters, plots, and actors from his forty-plus year career in the cinema. As a summative entity of his work as an internationally renowned filmmaker, it’s pretty much without equal, and even for someone who’s never experienced a Bergman film before and who won’t recognize so many parallels and paeans to his past achievements, it’s an irresistible dramedy that lures you into a magical world that you won’t want to escape from at any point for the next three-plus hours. (The 320-minute television version also included in this Criterion set allows the viewer to bask even more in the deep nostalgia and rich storytelling of one of the world’s most gifted entrepreneurs.)

       


    Fanny and Alexander (Blu-ray)
    Directed by Ingmar Bergman

    Studio: Criterion
    Year: 1982

    Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1   1080p   AVC codec  
    Running Time: 320/188 minutes
    Rating: NR
    Audio: PCM 1.0 Swedish; Dolby Digital 1.0 English
    Subtitles: English

    Region: A

    MSRP: $59.95


    Release Date: November 8, 2011

    Review Date: November 7, 2011



    The Film

    5/5


    In 1907 Uppsala, Sweden, the Ekdahl family is about the undergo a series of trying circumstances which cause turmoil for several members of the clan. After the death of theater impresario Oscar Ekdahl (Allan Edwall), his young and beautiful wife (Ewa Froling) is beguiled by the honeyed words of the cold martinet Bishop Edvard Vergérus (Jan Malmsjo) and impulsively marries him. Her two children Alexander (Bertil Guve) and Fanny (Pernilla Allwin) are rudely brought down to earth by the bishop’s demanding ways and spartan existence, hard for them to take after living in the comfortable luxury of their previously upper class existence. Meanwhile, other family members are also having problems. Restaurateur Gustav Adolf Ekdahl (Jarl Kulle) loves his wife Alma (Mona Malm) dearly but can’t resist the charms of family maid Maj (Pernilla Wallgren). Black sheep family son Carl (Börje Ahlstedt) can’t resist drink or the gambling tables and finds himself unable to pay his debts. Through it all, family matriarch Helena (Gunn Wallgren) observes her family’s ups and downs with a loving heart but a firm- when-necessary hand.


    The multi-storied tapestry of Bergman’s fascinating screenplay is filled with a mixture of comic, ironic, haunting, and horrific events, and no verbal summary could do this bountiful slice-of-life extravaganza justice. In its portrait of a family in a certain time and place with all of the variances of everyday existence, the movie seems as much like real life as any movie has ever managed to capture. Even the surreal moments, when Alexander sees what appears to be the ghost of his father at critical moments after his father’s death (in nods to Shakespeare’s Hamlet which happen throughout the film), are spellbinding in their power to dazzle and delight. Bergman has made set pieces like the opening Christmas Eve celebration, the scene at Oscar’s death bed, a brutal caning Alexander absorbs from his stepfather, and a breathless excursion around family friend Isak Jacobi’s (Erland Josephson) emporium so rich in flavor and feeling that we instinctively sense we are actually there. Bergman’s directorial control is masterful; the camera moves when it has to but stays relatively fixed for much of the film allowing us to drink in the atmosphere as well as the events unfolding before us. And the ghosts and other phantasms, the moving statue, the family oddities that exist with both the bishop’s and the Jacobi families are shown without editorializing; they’re simply a part of life to be experienced and either savored or dealt with. And there are so many allusions to Smiles of a Summer Night, Wild Strawberries, Persona, Scenes from a Marriage, Cries and Whispers, The Magician, The Seventh Seal and others that a Bergman fan will be in an absolute state of bliss as they waft past.


    The level of performance art in this movie is staggering. Jarl Kulle has the showiest role as the womanizing Gustav. He handles an especially difficult monologue at a party scene with complete security and aplomb, and his sexual romps are full of lusty good cheer. Gunn Wallgren’s matriarch is an honorable, stately marvel, firm with servants and her own children when necessary but also filled with fierce love when the need arises. Ewa Froling’s role as Emilie traverses the most character conflagrations from contented wife to harrowingly grieving young widow, then to new bride who realizes too late the horrors of her new husband, and eventually a more mature and eager mother anxious to rejoin the life she had enjoyed before. As Bergman’s youthful alter-ego Alexander, Bertil Guve conveys just the right amount of youthful stubbornness and eagerness to please that make him an attractive pair of eyes through which we see much of this fascinating if sometimes terrifying world.



    Video Quality

    5/5


    Both versions of Fanny and Alexander have been framed at 1.66:1 and are presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. Looking for a reference quality transfer of an older film? This will be the go-to Blu-ray for a long time to come. In terms of color and contrast, the disc is absolute perfection capturing Sven Nykvist ‘s Oscar-winning cinematography with the truest hues and most stable colors imaginable. Flesh tones are lusciously real, and black levels are superb. There are no signs of age in terms of dust or scratches to mar this pristine, ultra-sharp but always film-like transfer. The white subtitles are always easy to read. The theatrical version has been divided into 39 chapters. The television version has a total of 53 chapters over the course of four episodes.



    Audio Quality

    4/5


    The PCM 1.0 (1.1 Mbps) sound mix is an outstanding achievement combining the dialogue, sound effects, and music into a tantalizing sound deesign which is very true to its era. In the quietest scenes, one can discern a trace of low level hiss, but that’s the only real blemish in an otherwise outstanding audio transfer. There is an English language dubbed version presented in Dolby Digital 1.0, but I only cheecked to see if it was present.



    Special Features

    5/5


    The extended television version of Fanny and Alexander  is offered on disc one in the package. Running 320 minutes, it extends scenes from the theatrical cut (it was prepared after the theatrical version was cut together) and adds more scenes fleshing out certain roles like Maj and Alma more than the theatrical cut. The fact that it’s divided into four episodes allows the viewer to watch it as a miniseries over a course of evenings for a richer, more flavorful experience.


    The second disc in the set contains the theatrical cut. It also contains an audio commentary by Peter Cowie, another in his superb series of tracks explaining and illuminating both the career of its maker and the film itself. He cites actors who had appeared in previous Bergman films, themes and nuances from previous works that a casual viewer might miss, and generally finds enough subject matter to cover the three hour running time of the theatrical version. It’s a must-listen.


    The theatrical trailer runs 2 ¾ minutes in 1080p.


    Disc three contains the remaining supplements.


    “The Making of Fanny and Alexander is a 109 ¾-minute feature film detailing the production of the movie from initial script ideas to the first day of shooting down to the film’s final production day. In between, we see Bergman at work with the actors in blocking scenes, filming with numerous retakes, conferring with Sven Nykvist on camera set-ups, and the final celebration at the end of production. It’s in 1080p.


    “A Bergman Tapestry” features interviews with producer Jörn Donner, production manager Katina Farago, actors Bertil Guve and Pernilla Wallgren, art director Anna Asp, and assistant director Peter Schildt. All discuss making the film years after the fact and their delight at the great reception the movie received worldwide. This runs 39 ¼ minutes in 1080i.


    “Ingmar Bergman Bids Farewell to Film” is a 59 ¼-minute interview with the master director after the film’s great success as he reflects on its being his last film (he eventually went on to direct on the stage and a couple of other films). He also discusses where he got the idea for the movie, his grand return to Sweden to work after his tax problems led to self-imposed exile, his delight in working with the children in the film after avoiding children in his other films throughout his career, his views on life and death, and his fascination with women.


    A stills gallery offers dozens of behind-the-scenes color photos.


    A costume gallery features sketches from Oscar-winning costume designer Marik Vos and then views of the finished products in photos and clips from the movie.


    A set model sequence features a 7 ¼-minute text and photo montage of set designs and models for the movie followed by the finished products. It’s in 1080i.


    The enclosed 34-page booklet features the cast and crew lists, beautiful color stills and behind-the-scenes shots, film critic Stig Björkman celebration of the movie, film writer Rick Moody’s tribute to its director, and film professor Paul Arthur’s backstage views on the film’s production.


    The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc, the title of the chapter you’re now in, and index markers for the commentary that goes along with the film, all of which can be switched on the fly. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.



    In Conclusion

    5/5 (not an average)


    An Ingmar Bergman masterpiece even for those who may not care for the works of Ingmar Bergman, Fanny and Alexander is as rich and rewarding a film of family life as has ever been committed to celluloid. This beautiful masterwork is presented in both its theatrical and television versions with impeccable high definition transfers that will literally take one’s breath away. Highest recommendation!



    Matt Hough

    Charlotte, NC

     
  2. SD_Brian

    SD_Brian Supporting Actor

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    If I recall correctly, the TV version was not split into episodes on the DVD, it was all edited together into one movie with the only break being the disc change. It sounds like this has been changed for the blu-ray? If so, that may give me the excuse to upgrade I've been looking for! :D
     
  3. Matt Hough

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    Actually, the Blu-ray of the TV version offers you either a play all feature or the four individual episodes, so you can watch it either way.
     
  4. SD_Brian

    SD_Brian Supporting Actor

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    I was mistaken: the DVD is the same way. It's been a long time since I watched the 5-hour version.
     
  5. Charles Smith

    Charles Smith Extremely Talented Member

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    Love Bergman, but I seem to have consistently avoided Fanny and Alexander all these years. I think I've been intimidated by it. Now, having just read this review, and given the B&N sale (which I thought I was done with -- but is one ever really done with it?), I have to conclude that any further resistance would be futile.
     
  6. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Director
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    I don't think you'll be disappointed. It's really quite something this film.
     
  7. WilliamMcK

    WilliamMcK Second Unit

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    To: "Chas in CT" I don't think you'll be disappointed. This was actually my first Bergman film (saw it theatrically way back in the summer of 1983 and dragged my mother to see it later in the year). Going backwards and catching up over the next year or two with The Seventh Seal, Smiles of a Summer Night, Winter Light, The Virgin Spring, The Silence, Wild Strawberries and Shame I came to realize that while Fanny and Alexander is perhaps Bergman's most atypical movie, it is also paradoxically his summation. While not literally his final film, it is -- in the critical sense of bringing his entire career together in one work -- "the last Bergman movie." Incidentally, I know I'm in the minority, but I actually prefer the 188 min theatrical cut -- but I wouldn't deny that my familiarity with that version plays a large part in my preference.
     
  8. SD_Brian

    SD_Brian Supporting Actor

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    I agree with your preference for the "short" version. To me, it felt more mysterious and magical. Granted, that may be due to the fact that all the material that was cut created some gaping plot holes but, particularly in the last act, there are a lot of moments that, in the theatrical cut, benefit greatly from NOT being explained. The movie lost something for me after I watched the longer TV version.
     
  9. Martin Teller

    Martin Teller Cinematographer

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    This is seriously the first time I've ever heard of anyone preferring the shorter cut. It's a crippled version of the movie. The television cut is vastly richer.
     
  10. WilliamMcK

    WilliamMcK Second Unit

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    I know it was painful for Bergman to whittle down his film to a reasonable theatrical length, but I think it paid off in the long run. There are some excesses in the 5+ hour cut that once removed give the film a much better pace. Having said that, I still am appreciative of the long version (I've watched it through twice and will certainly do so again). Oh, and the long version has most of Gunnar Björnstrand's scenes back in; definitely a point in its favor.
     
  11. SD_Brian

    SD_Brian Supporting Actor

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    Then our preference is clearly wrong. :)
     
  12. DavidJ

    DavidJ Producer

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    I've also avoided it, but plan on picking it up this week. The discussion of the two versions has been interesting as I was wondering which version I should watch first.
     
  13. SD_Brian

    SD_Brian Supporting Actor

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    If, for whatever reason, you've been avoiding it, you may want to start with the theatrical cut. Think of it as dipping your toe in the water before taking the plunge. Also, as William previously stated, the pacing of the theatrical cut is much tighter. Once you've gotten a taste for it, you'll be more eager to delve into the full experience of the TV version. I haven't watched either version in a few years--I think the last time I did was on the day Bergman died. I plan to re-watch the TV version first. Who knows? Perhaps, with a repeat viewing, my preference will shift from the short version to the long.
     
  14. Richard--W

    Richard--W Banned
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    No one in the USA had ever seen the long version until Criterion released it on DVD in 2004. What a revelation! Like discovering a new film Bergman had been hiding away for twenty years. I've come to prefer it over the USA theatrical cut. There is so much delicate interaction and intense storytelling in the long version that I miss those scenes when I put on the shorter. I watch Bergman films religiously you might say, but I haven't been in the mood for Fanny and Alexander in a while. The DVD was an immaculate transfer. I can just imagine how much the Blu-ray betters it. I'll have to pick it up soon. Criterion still has several early Bergman films waiting in the wings, enough for another Eclipse box. Of the the later features, still waiting for Brink of Life (1958), Dreams (1960), All These Women (1964), The Rite (1969), The Touch (1971), and In the Presence of a Clown (1997) on DVD / Blu-ray. Not to mention several teleplays he did along the lines of Fanny and Alexander.
     
  15. Martin Teller

    Martin Teller Cinematographer

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    I adore Brink of Life and In the Presence of a Clown, Dreams is quite good, and The Rite is a flawed but interesting experience. The Touch and All These Women, however, are among his worst. My wishlist of titles without a region 1 release: Brink of Life In the Presence of a Clown Summer With Monika Dreams The Image Makers Secrets of Women Markisinnan de Sade And what the heck, The Rite. And there's a few of his TV productions I haven't seen yet, but they'll probably never see the light of day.
     
  16. Roger_R

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    So, as I understand it, the TV version is now on one single-sided BD? Hard to believe they could put over 5 hours of HD video on one BD without compromising the picture quality. Looks like they lost the rights to the introductions Bergman did to his films for SVT.
     
  17. Richard--W

    Richard--W Banned
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    A very considerate collector sent me In the Presence of a Clown from a Euro TV broadcast. Watching it was like discovering a hitherto unknown Rembrandt. The Image Makers and Markisinnan de Sade are unknown in the USA. How did you see them? Are they on DVD somewhere?
     
  18. Martin Teller

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    I'm not at liberty to say.
     

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