(Daniel Mendelsohn’s article appeared in the New York Review of Books, 4/18.)

The Best Intentions

by Ingmar Bergman, translated from the Swedish by Joan Tate

Arcade, 298 pp., $16.99 (paper)

Sunday’s Children

by Ingmar Bergman, translated from the Swedish by Joan Tate

Arcade, 153 pp., $14.95 (paper)

Private Confessions

by Ingmar Bergman, translated from the Swedish by Joan Tate

Arcade, 160 pp., $16.99 (paper)

Toward the beginning of Ingmar Bergman’s autobiographical film Fanny and Alexander, a beautiful young boy wanders into a beautiful room. The room is located in a rambling Uppsala apartment belonging to the boy’s widowed grandmother, Helena Ekdahl, once a famous actress and now the matriarch of a spirited and noisy theater family. As the camera follows the boy, Alexander, we note the elaborate fin-de-siècle decor, the draperies with their elaborate swags, the rich upholstery and carpets, the pictures crowding the walls, all imbued with the warm colors that, throughout the first part of the film, symbolize the Ekdahls’ warm (when not overheated) emotional lives. Later, after the death of Alexander’s kind-hearted father, Oscar, who is the lead actor of the family troupe, his widow rather inexplicably marries a stern bishop into whose bleak residence she and her children must move. At this point, the film’s visual palette will be leached of color and life; everything will be gray, black, coldly white.

But for now, vivacity and sensuality and even fantasy reign. On a mantelpiece, an elaborate gilt clock ticks, its golden cherubs preparing their mechanized dance. Nearby, a life-sized white marble statue of a nude woman catches the boy’s eye. When he blinks, she seems, Galatea-like, to come to life, one arm moving as if to beckon him to pleasures he has not yet even imagined; he blinks again, and the statue is just a statue once more. At that moment a violent rattling wakes him from his reverie: the maid is pouring coal into a stove.

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