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Picks and Pans Review: Fanny and Alexander

updated 06/20/1983 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/20/1983 01:00AM

Ingmar (Cries and Whispers) Bergman has claimed that this 194-minute historical epic will be his last film. If so, the 63-year-old Swedish director has created an extraordinary coda to an incomparable career. Despite the equal billing of the title, the emphasis is on 10-year-old Alexander (Bertil Guve), who observes and absorbs the strange behavior of his large and wealthy family, which operates a theater in a provincial Swedish town at the turn of the century. When Alexander's father dies, his mother comes under the spell of the evil local bishop, who weds her and wars with the kids. Before Alexander and younger sister Fanny can escape to the home and bosom of their wise, worldly grandmother, they must endure a string of hardships and peculiar supporting characters. That threatens to turn the movie into a semiautobiographical Bergman version of David Copperfield. In fact, in its texture, temperament and narrative sprawl, Fanny and Alexander more closely resembles a satisfying 19th-century English novel than the stark, sad psychodramas that Bergman usually proffers. The director's concerns are, as usual, social hypocrisy, the inevitability of death, the claustrophobia of relationships. But this time Bergman's perspective is remarkably sweet-tempered, and his story is accessible and engrossing. Fanny and Alexander is both a highlight and an anomaly of his distinguished life's work. (In Swedish with English subtitles) (R)

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