Fanny and Alexander Box Set(The Criterion Collection, 11.16.2004)
As the sum total of decades' worth of relentless productivity in film and theatre, Ingmar Bergman's 1982 Fanny and Alexander stands on its own strange pedestal. It's an autumnal, vibrant saga even in its darkest moments, almost (but not quite) freed of the pathological introspection that defines Bergman's body of work; the clawing ferocity of an artist in endless conflict with his obsessions.
Fanny and Alexander is Bergman's grand final gesture, an epic-scaled (for him) attempt to give his dramatic fixations a definitive context. Exactly how much of it is autobiographical is quite beside the point; what matters most is the sheer voluminous experience of it all, alternately mysterious, joyous, and chilling but always intoxicatingly alive.
Criterion's 5-disc box-set release of Fanny and Alexander is an embarrassment of riches, starting first with the complete 312-minute version initially broadcast on Swedish television, hitherto unavailable in America. As was the case with Scenes from a Marriage, the breathing room afforded by the miniseries-style presentation lets the narrative stretch its legs, granting greater attention to the extended family of the titular characters and, perhaps most excitingly, allowing the astonishing Christmas celebration that opens the film to play out as a self-contained episode of its own. The slow plunge into darkness that follows seems, in this extended form, even more oppressive, which lends Fanny and Alexander's later escape from their cruel and domineering stepfather a potent fairy-tale lyricism unmatched anywhere else in Bergman's canon.
As is the norm with Criterion, the extra materials do a great service to the film at hand, starting with a graceful and erudite commentary track by Peter Cowie for the 188-minute theatrical cut. Even more welcome is Bergman's own feature-length documentary on the making of the film, which manages to supplant Vilgot Sjoman's Ingmar Bergman Makes a Movie by providing a privileged look at an artist operating at the absolute peak of his powers.
More interviews fill out the set, including an entertaining 60-minute chat between Bergman and Nils Petter Sundgren from 1984, as well as trailers, costume sketches, footage of set models and filmed introductions for a selection of Bergman's other films. Best of all, Sven Nykvist's incomparable photography positively glows in a beautiful anamorphic transfer that makes the film look like it was shot yesterday. Even by Criterion's impeccable standards, this is a thoroughly flawless release. -- Jason Comerford