Fanny och Alexander

Fanny och Alexander
Fanny and Alexander

“Wednesday September 27, 1978:
‘There is no longer any distinction between my anxiety and the reality that causes it. And yet I think I know what kind of film I want to make next. It is far different from anything I have ever done. [...] Through my playing, I want to master my anxiety, relieve tension, and triumph over my deterioration. I want to depict, finally, the joy that I carry within me in spite of everything, and which I so seldom and so feebly have given attention to in my work. To be able to express the power of action, decisiveness, the vitality, and the kindness. Yes, for once, that would not be a bad idea.’

Wednesday April 18, 1979:
‘I don’t know much about this film. Yet it tempts me more than any other. It is enigmatic and demands reflection, but the most important thing of course is that the desire is there.’

Wednesday May 2:
‘I must get away from rushing and straining. I have the entire summer in front of me to do this, more than four months. On the other hand, I should not stay away from my desk too long. But no, it’s all right to walk around a bit! Let the scenes settle themselves down as they please. Let them become what they will. Then they will be on their best behavior!’”

Ingmar Bergman1


“There are two godfathers to Fanny and Alexander. One of them is E.T.A. Hoffmann. Toward the end of the 1970s, I was supposed to direct Tales of Hoffmann at the Opera House in Munich. [...] In a short story written by Hoffmann there is a gigantic, magical room. It was that magical room I wanted to re-create on stage. The drama would be played out with that room set in the foreground and the orchestra in the background. There is also an illustration from E. T. A. Hoffmann’s stories that had haunted me time and time again, a picture from The Nutcracker. Two children are quivering close together in the twilight of Christmas Eve, waiting impatiently for the candles on the tree to be lighted and the doors to the living room to be opened. It is that scene that gave me the idea of beginning Fanny and Alexander with a Christmas celebration. The second godfather is Dickens: the bishop and his home, the Jew in his boutique of fantasies, the children as victims; the contrast between flourishing outside life and a closed world in black and white. [All of these elements are in Fanny and Alexander.]

From the very beginning one can see that with Fanny and Alexander I have landed in the world of my childhood. Here is the university town and grandmother’s house with the old cook; here is the Jew who lived out back; and here is the school. I am already in the place and beginning to roam around in the familiar environment. My childhood has of course always been my main supplier, without my ever having bothered to find out where the deliveries were coming from.

I conceived Fanny and Alexander during the fall of 1978, a time when everything around me left me in darkest despair. But I wrote the screenplay during the spring of 1979, and by that time many things had eased up. Autumn Sonata (1978) had a successful premiere, and the whole tax business had dissolved into thin air. I found myself liberated suddenly. I think that Fanny and Alexander benefited from my relief. To know that I had what I had. [...] On April 12, 1979, we arrived on Fårö. It felt like coming home. Everything else is a dream, an unreality. A few days later I began to write Fanny and Alexander. [...] The manuscript was finished on July 8, not quite three months after I began it. There followed a year of preparation for filming, a long and surprisingly pleasant time.

I had returned to my own language. I was working with hand-picked actors and a good crew in complete harmony, a perfect organization. And yet, a strong fear haunted me daily: Would I manage to get through another day? Would I find the strength? For two hundred and fifty days of filming? Then I began to catch a glimpse of what I needed to do. A few weeks after we finished shooting the film, the time came to sift through the enormous amount of footage, more than twenty-five hours of film.

But the trouble that was now beginning to develop had to do with creating two versions. Fanny and Alexander was to be produced two ways: one version intended for television, to be shown in five episodes (not necessarily of equal length); the other for theatrical release, to be of ‘normal length’ – which was vague – and to run for more than two and a half hours. The long version was more important. That is the film I stand totally behind today. Theatrical distribution was necessary, but it was not a priority. For practical and technical reasons, we finished the five-act television production first. Once edited, we had a film that ran more than five hours.”

Ingmar Bergman2


“Bergman’s statement that Fanny and Alexander will be his last film is doubtless to be understood more rhetorically than literally: he has already completed another. [...] The declaration, however, remains useful in drawing attention to Fanny and Alexander’s particular nature: that of an artistic testament and summation, the kind of work any filmmaker might wish his ‘last film’ to be. It is also the most generally accessible film Bergman has made for many years, perhaps since Wild Strawberries (1957).”

Robin Wood3

  • 1Ingmar Bergman in his workbook, as quoted in Ingmar Bergman, Images: My Life in Film (London: Faber and Faber, 1995).
  • 2Ingmar Bergman, Images: My Life in Film (London: Faber and Faber, 1995).
  • 3Robin Wood, “Call Me Ishmael: Fanny and Alexander” [1983], In Robin Wood and Barry Keith Grant (ed.), Ingmar Bergman (New Edition) (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2012): 245-251.
UPDATED ON 14.12.2018