Emilie and Oscar Ekdahl are the owners of the local theatre group. They, along with their children Fanny and Alexander, form part of the larger Ekdahl family, led by their grandmother. Following one eventful Christmas, Oscar dies after having a stroke during a rehearsal. Emilie soon finds herself in love once more with the local priest, but soon finds his oppressive ways suffocating.
Meanwhile, there are numerous subplots involving the children's uncle Gustav and their maid Maj, and the grandmother's relationship with Isak, a Jewish antiques dealer.
I was first introduced to Ingmar Bergman when I watched Cries and Whispers earlier in the Empire 500 5-star challenge. I have to admit I wasn't a big fan of his film which focused primarily on early 20th Century upper class family life so when Fanny and Alexander popped up with a similar theme by the same director I wasn't too keen - especially with its three hour run time.
Fanny and Alexander starts in the same vein - the close knit family with their elderly matriarch gather together at Christmas where their individual problems are slowly revealed to the viewer. Initially, with so many characters it is difficult to follow, but gradually Bergman plucks out his protagonists and runs with their individual stories.
Once the film actually gets going though and Alexander becomes more of a protagonist rather than a child in the background, it is very good. The drama verges on fantasy with Alexander's visions but never veers so far from the storyline that it is difficult to understand. Bertil Guve is a fine actor capturing the essence of heartache that Alexander goes through after the death of his father and during his time with the priest in scenes filled with tension and emotion.
Frankly, if Cries and Whispers had been like this, I would have been raving about Bergman by now praising his vision and scripting in Fanny and Alexander. As it is, I can't figure the man out - was he an absolute genius or is this just a five-star fluke?
Either way, this is more than worthy of its four Academy Awards.