a glimpse at a mystery

In Dokument Fanny och Alexander (1986) – a.k.a. The Making of Fanny & Alexander – the camera (our camera) observes the film crew at work. We are as a fly on the wall, and yet closer still. Like many great documentaries, this film is premised on letting the subject reveal itself over time, naturally, without manipulation. Except for brief intertitles offering some explanation (and providing section headings) the film merely observes the activities of shooting a film, and especially of the director interacting with his actors and crew. The film is a subtle and intimate look into the relationships formed between these individuals.

I was struck by the film’s beauty and power. For example, I love the moment when filming the deathbed scene where Emilie Ekdahl (Ewa Fröling) comes to view the body of her husband. We get to see the scene being filmed from different angles, with the director, Ingmar Bergman, working with his actors and cinematographer, Sven Nykvist, on pacing and blocking. We get a glimpse at the insides, as it were, of a masterpiece – as though we were visiting the construction site of a cathedral and were seeing stone set upon stone.

What is so remarkable about a work of art is that there is often something transcendent and unexplainable about the final product, and yet the making is just people doing what they do. Artmaking may be a calling, a gift, a burden, but it is also a very human, even ordinary, activity.

Here we have Emilie Ekdahl looking at her husband.

And here we have Bergman looking at Ewa Fröling as she plays Emilie.

One might think that an actor would struggle with the director being only a couple of inches out of frame watching every movement one makes, but Bergman’s actors seem to thrive on that intimacy. Bergman develops a trusting relationship with his key actors to such a depth that their acting and his directing work symbiotically, organically, fully in the moment. And yet, what one sees in this documentary are the functional, goal oriented, working relationships coming together to finish a project and create a product.

If one looks for a mystical connection flowing between director and actor one finds nothing – for we really only see, because the camera can only see, the surface of things. But, if one looks for pointers to the mystery of filmmaking, they are everywhere, and they all point to the end-product, Fanny och Alexander (1982) – a.k.a. Fanny & Alexander.

3 thoughts on “a glimpse at a mystery

  1. >What a relief. Normally, when this film title surfaces, I shrink away because, well, I still haven’t gotten around to it yet. This was glommable without all of the cineastic guilt. Those moments really are powerful, though; I can still recall the exact look in Spielberg’s eye from a shot of him inspecting the relationship of Haley Joel Osment to Jude Law in A.I. from an American Cinematographer issue. What might seem like a technical glance held so much nuance.I’d actually stopped by to say that I’d finally seen Late Spring and absolutely loved it…although, come to think of it, could’ve been Ryland who recommended it — been a while.

  2. >Johanna, thanks for the comments. I’m glad you could glom guiltless. Although I can often be accused of being overly intellectual (not necessarily intelligent) about films, I do believe it (movies, art, etc.) all just comes down to being human. In other words, movies are thing we humans make and enjoy, which means to appreciate a film is really to appreciate our humanness. That is why I was so glad to come across that moment in the film; it’s sort of a blessing, in a way.As for Late Spring – it’s been so many years since I’ve seen it that I can’t imagine having specifically recommended it lately. But now that you bring it up, I will have to see it again. In fact, I may just have to bundle up several Ozu’s for a personal fête – if I can find the time!

  3. >…I do believe it (movies, art, etc.) all just comes down to being human. In other words, movies are thing we humans make and enjoy, which means to appreciate a film is really to appreciate our humanness.yup, yup. well said.

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