19 December 2012

Joy to the World and Especially to You Fanny and Alexander

We are all miracles. The odds against our being born are far greater than the odds against being elected president once we are born. We defy explanation. Passion. Love. Art. The music of Verdi. The paintings of Raphael. The poetry of Neruda. A long slow kiss. Fresh cherries. The films of Chaplin. Love. The overwhelming desire to be with someone to hold them to look into their eyes to be as one with another.

We interrupt our rapture for pain and insanity and cruelty and hatred sprinkled with terrifying moments when the entire world seems to be giving way from beneath. The pitch blackness that infects the mind and soul and leads us to sob or cringe or kill. Death -- not our own for that is easy. The death of those close to us. Their permanent departure from our lives. That void. How horribly final.

No wonder we are conflicted. A constant battle between joy and sorrow rages on within and about us. And it is always surrounded and often obscured by the mundane. Indeed we often cloak ourselves in the trivial (think of television) to find respite from the harder truths. And so we become numb. Awakening to one of the twin forces in times of clarity. Sure we deflect the awful but so often we fail to welcome the beautiful as if it were so great an effort to invite the wonders.


And then there is the meaningful. The knowledge that abets our greatest hopes and worst fears (have you ever had the worst day of your life? Have you ever had your best? Do you reckon that more contenders for both will come along? Are you girded for the storm? Are you...). So often we confuse information for truth or understanding. Our brains collect trivia and we stamp ourselves smart then recoil at contradictions unable to break away from linear thinking.

As we aim to possess understanding it calls us weak and stupid and we shove it under a rug and tell more lies -- mostly to ourselves.

Celebrations. Why do I a non believer so love Christmas? I always have. As a child. As a teen. As a young adult. As a parent of children. Now as a parent of 20 somethings. It is -- you see -- colorful and different. Christmas comes with its own set of music and decor and lights and traditions and food and drinks and treats and of course gifts. Family feels so close. So secure. So loving.

Some will tell you that there is a war on Christmas. If so it has no chance. This entrenched holiday is everywhere for  a full month. The only blows it has suffered is the use of Happy Holidays in lieu of Merry Christmas and the elimination of a nativity scene or two. Christmas thrives because it is an economic force as well as cultural one. Xmas has barely suffered a few nicks and bruises.

Christmas also brings with its own set of films. (Please see the Christmas label on the right of this page for some of my past posts about Christmas movies.) A recent tradition for me this time of year is to watch the magnificent Ingmar Bergman opus Fanny & Alexander (1982). The full version as shown originally on Swedish TV. It is a rich sumptuous delight. The five plus hours (spread over two nights) spent with the Ekdahl family of whom the titular characters are two junior members flies by. How can it not with the rich cinematography of Sven Nykvist? Sets down to the tiniest prop that are brimming with beauty and color and evoke early 20th century Sweden.

Only the film's first hour takes place at Christmas and what a Christmas it is. Brimming with an amazing blend of tradition and spontaneity. Rich with food and gifts and fun. Downright sensual and ribald yet fit -- so very fit -- for a child. Here is life in full and the joys of family love and love of family. Here is the precursor of the troubles that are to come for out two young protagonists but the foreshadowing of their courage and their families devotion that will rescue them.

Amazing wonders and villains and strange heroes await the children. Steadfast are two uncles one a lout to his poor wife the other a loving if unfaithful husband who takes great huge gulps of life. Grandmother is so strong and wise and peaceful and kind. She even has a Jewish lover has had since before she was widowed. Wink. Wink. And mother. Widowed suddenly but a much older husband (whose ghosts regularly checks in with Alexander not the only apparition he will see). Mother beautiful loving but what a mistake she made in making the bishop her second husband. One of filmdom's great evil characters.

Fanny and Alexander is a wonder a miracle an amazing journey through all the darkness and light that life can throw our way with no wasted time on the plain the ordinary the mundane. Here in film is life in full. Huzzah!

No comments: