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Diane

Fanny and Alexander (1982)

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It can't be that she didn't care for Oskar - her terrifying screams the night of his death seem proof of that.

Isn't this a stunningly horrific moment? Those screams chill my blood. It's strange, too, coming from a woman who later says she never really cared for much, that nothing really ever hurt her.

Those are some terrific comments on Emilie, John. Looking back on my original questions, I'm surprised that I specifically asked about her instead of, say, Alexander, but, as you've noted, she really is a compelling character.

I, too, noticed the excitement she showed when Alma announced that Edvard would preach the Christmas message. The two women exchange a rather knowing look. The bishop has a reputation of being a very handsome man. Gustav Adolf even describes him as a "ladykiller," and it didn't seem to me like he was being facetious. I'm thinking Emilie has found him attractive for quite a while. Her marriage to Oskar, while comfortable and steady, has perhaps left her a little lonely. She tells Helena that she lived pretty much alone since Fanny was born. After he dies, she refers to Oskar as her best friend and notes that she was "very fond" of him. "Very fond"? Hmm. A rather passionless word choice to me. But then again, there's the aforementioned grieving scene where she paces before Oskar's body. Yes, she's a mystery, and I find her quite fascinating.

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Isn't this a stunningly horrific moment? Those screams chill my blood. It's strange, too, coming from a woman who later says she never really cared for much, that nothing really ever hurt her.

You know, Diane, your use of the word horrific just made me think about the many horrifying moments in the film. There are a number of these, moments where I literally find myself pushing back against my couch, kind of trying to escape the situation. Emilie screaming is one. Alexander being punished by Edvard is another (both before the marriage, and then the terrible one after). Alexander with the ghosts in the attic. Alexander losing his way in Uncle Isak's house, as we know the mysterious Ismael is lurking somewhere. I'm sure there are others I'm forgetting.

I wonder how this compares to other Bergman films. Are these moments of horror a regular thing for him? What about a kind of building suspense, where we aren't sure things are going to go awry, but we have the feeling it will. The best one I can think of is in The Virgin Spring, when the girl goes off for lunch with the men in the forest. Maybe also near the end of Through a Glass Darkly, when Minus follows Corin (is that right?) into the boat, or when Corin has her vision of 'God'. I don't know, just thinking about Bergman and horror together seemed odd. Maybe there is more there than I at first thought.

Oh, and great photos and comments on Emilie. I think you do well to bring out the ambiguity in some of her words and actions. I also think about her going to Helena in her summer house after the marriage, as it strikes me as an odd scene. She doesn't wail or beg for help or anything. But clearly something has driven her to her family. She sort of just expresses her worries about the children, and when Helena starts moving the conversation toward "what can we do", Emilie quickly cools her emotion. Maybe that is simply to express the seriousness of trying to cross Edvard, but it seemed odd nonetheless. Regardless, as you say, she remains a mystery to me.

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I wonder how this compares to other Bergman films. Are these moments of horror a regular thing for him? What about a kind of building suspense, where we aren't sure things are going to go awry, but we have the feeling it will.

John, have you ever seen Hour of the Wolf? It's actually described as Bergman's one true horror film (it deals with vampires...or demons...or whatever they are). It's too over-the-top for me, but still, it's quite spooky. (Incidentally, there's a scene in that film where Max von Sydow tells Liv Ullmann about how he was abused as a child. IIRC, he describes *exactly* the same thing we see happen to Alexander in F&A, from the beating to being locked in a cubbyhole with rats. Hmm. Telling this story twice throughout the years? I wonder if Bergman was really subjected to stuff like that.)

But I guess I'm more horrified by the cruelty Bergman's characters show toward each other, and there's certainly plenty of that to go around in his works. I've never seen The Virgin Spring, but just reading what you wrote above and knowing what happens to the girl...well, it's awfully unsettling. And yes, I'd agree about the scenes you mention in Through a Glass Darkly. There are many other Bergman moments that fill me with anxiety or just give me the creeps: both a verbal and physical fight in Scenes from a Marriage, another physical attack and some animal abuse in The Passion of Anna, the dream sequence toward the beginning of Wild Strawberries. Shame is another one that fits the bill, as you watch characters make horrible decisions that you know will change their lives forever. Personally, I'd describe Persona as a horror film. And Cries & Whispers? To me, most of his works just don't get much more horrific than that. There's just something about the intensity of what's going on onscreen. You feel as if you're there, and you wish you could intervene...or, as you say, escape.

Edit: After rereading that, somebody please remind me why I love Bergman's films so much. wink.gif

Edited by Diane

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Thanks for the comments, Diane. I've not seen any of those you mentioned, except Wild Strawberries, which I forgot about. I've definitely got more to watch. I think you hit the nail on the head with being horrified by the characters cruelty toward one another. That's what it is, and the thing that makes it so effective, I think, is not just the cruelty itself (there are lots of films with cruel people doing cruel things), but that Bergman sets things up in such a way that we care about or feel empathy for some of these characters.

Oh, and that's really interesting about the discussion of abuse in Hour of the Wolf. I'll have to check that out. It pains me to think that some of this stuff could in any way be based in actual events from his childhood.

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That's what it is, and the thing that makes it so effective, I think, is not just the cruelty itself (there are lots of films with cruel people doing cruel things), but that Bergman sets things up in such a way that we care about or feel empathy for some of these characters.

That's what I was trying to say, only you said it better than I did.

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By the way, Stef, it's high time to get around to those other Bergmans that are languishing in your Netflix queue (yes, I read that thread). If all of this talk about horror doesn't inspire you, then I don't know what will. wink.gif

Edited by Diane

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Definitely check out Hour of the Wolf, John. I've never been too drawn to horror films, and it's not one of my favorite Bergmans, but some of the images in that film are so disconcerting they're almost a joy to watch.

I think Bergman is particularly good at capturing the small cruelties of close relationships. There are moments in his films that make me ashamed because I can too clearly identify with a character's selfishness or pettiness or vindictiveness. He's so keenly self-aware -- to a fault, really. I wonder if he's been psychoanalyzed, or if he considers writing and directing therapy enough.

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I most definitely will Darren. Having seen a number of his more well-known and discussed films, I think I'm ready to kind of start at the beginning and go through them chronologically, if I can. It should be an interesting progression. And yeah, those "small cruelties of relationships" - a good way to put it.

Edited by John

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I posted this to my blog, but thought it might fit here as well, since I just finished going through the film a second time.

As I watched the long version again, I was struck by the utter ambiguity in the relationship between imagination, magic, and even divine intervention. The scene that got me thinking along these lines was one I had forgotten, from the final act. During the rescue of the children, after Isak has put them into the chest, Edvard makes his way to the nursery, in what we expect will be a scene where he discovers that the children are missing.

Instead, what he finds are the children laying together on the floor with their mother looking over them - yet we know they have been placed in the chest. How can they be two places at once? It seems to me there are several ways of looking at this scene, which I think Bergman purposefully leaves ambiguous, as he does many other scenes like it in the film.

The options: First, it could be that somehow either Isak or Emilie snuck puppets into the house, and during the intervening moments, snuck those puppets into the room. Of course, the puppets would have originated with Aron, and either come in with Isak, or through him to Emilie in secret. Second, it could be some kind of magic or other illusion, as we see Aron talk with Alexander about the breathing mummy. Third, it could be in Isak's imagination. As he falls to the ground, the camera focuses in on him, as if these are his thoughts at this moment. And when Edvard goes upstairs, Isak calls in the boys for outside to carry the chest. Finally, it seems this could even be an instance of divine intervention of some sort. Isak falls to his knees and looks up, as if he could be praying. And in this moment of all moments, God intervenes.

The thing about all these options, is I think there's no way to know for sure which is which. And this is part of the greatness of this film. You see, this is where we all are with reference to what we know about God in the world. We see all kinds of strange and unexplainable things, some of these miraculous, some not so much. Some of these yield good things in the immediate, some do not. Yet much as we might like to attribute this or that to the hand of God or some other force or even our own imagination, it seems that in the end, none of us can make such a call for sure. We might like to believe it's this way or that way, but believing is all we can do. And as finite human beings, living with this belief or faith is the tension we have to live with, it seems to me.

Bergman captures this ambiguity beautifully all through the film, with all the scenes of ghosts, imagined or otherwise, and other strange occurrences. His protagonist finds himself right in the middle of that ambiguity, and is ultimately unsure of what to do with it. Bergman as writer and director doesn't seem to want to account for it with imagination, or God, or magic. He just leaves these things in tension, without any steps of faith in any of these directions.

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Wow, wonderful thoughts, John. Thanks for posting that.

I think Bergman is particularly good at capturing the small cruelties of close relationships.  There are moments in his films that make me ashamed because I can too clearly identify with a character's selfishness or pettiness or vindictiveness.

*nodding* Oh yeah, his films make me feel quite convicted at times.

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Has anyone here ever seen The Best Intentions, Sunday's Children, and/or Private Confessions? I ask because I've spotted these films' names frequently mentioned in reviews and film guides alongside F&A, some even saying that these films should all be seen as a group. Bergman wrote the screenplays from his books of the same names, but he left the directing to Bille August, his son Daniel Bergman, and Liv Ullmann, respectively. I'm not sure exactly how autobiographical they are (it seems to depend on the review you read), but most seem to agree that the films explore real events from his parents' relationships and his childhood. They sound quite interesting (the first one sounds the weakest, though), and after seeing F&A, the territory rings very familiar.

Reviews from the New York Times (free registration):

The Best Intentions

Sunday's Children

Private Confessions

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Definitely check out Hour of the Wolf, John. I've never been too drawn to horror films, and it's not one of my favorite Bergmans, but some of the images in that film are so disconcerting they're almost a joy to watch.

I think Bergman is particularly good at capturing the small cruelties of close relationships. There are moments in his films that make me ashamed because I can too clearly identify with a character's selfishness or pettiness or vindictiveness. He's so keenly self-aware -- to a fault, really. I wonder if he's been psychoanalyzed, or if he considers writing and directing therapy enough.

I just watched this one. It's a letdown after Shame, which is clearly a masterpiece on multiple levels. I wish Wolf hadn't been funny. In fact, one of the DVD extras features a Bergman expert explaining why the film is supposed to make us laugh -- something that always gets my radar up, suggesting an after-the-fact reinterpretation of something that was intended to be serious, but which audiences chuckled at. Bergman is such a consummate filmmaker that I could be convinced he intended to be humorous with this film ... but I seriously doubt it.

Edited by Christian

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