Swedish film industry banks on a Bergman 'biggie'

The crowd in Fyristorg, Uppsala, fell silent as the man in the flat corduroy cap raised his hand and spoke the three words that are the Swedish equivalent of "Let 'em roll."

"Klart for tagning!"

Ingmar Bergman has returned to his homeland to make what he says will be his last major movie: a two-hour, 40-minute extravaganza that will also be a five-hour television series. His budget is $6 million, 10 times that of the average Swedish film.

The film is called "Fanny and Alexander." It opens with a pillow fight in a children's bedroom and it ends with a walk in the desert. The screenplay took Bergman two years to write and at 297 pages is his longest ever.

It is also starting to look like a "make or break" bid by the Swedish film industry, which is facing mounting economic difficulties.

The Swedish Film Institute's production fund for 1979-80 showed a deficit of

Film Institute boss Jorn Donner seems to be pegging all his hopes on Bergman's last biggie.

When Bergman's own negotiations with English film mogul Lord Grade floundered , Donner stepped flamboyantly into the breach, called Bergman in Munich and told him: "You make the film, I'll fix the cash."

Donner says he has around $2 million to come from German backers and about the same amount from French and Italian sources. But no agreements have yet been signed.

According to Sven Eric Ericson, film critic for Dagens Nyheter, Stockholm's leading daily newspaper, Donner has so far succeeded in getting his hands on only $1 million in hard cash.

"While Bergman is filming, other Swedish filmmakers are getting very anxious, " said Ericson. "They are afraid that the foreign finance will go up in smoke and that the Bergman project will eat up all the Film Institute's remaining resources."

The Federation of Swedish Film Directors in an open letter to the Film Institute published in the Swedish press this month questioned the wisdom of banking on large-scale productions such as the Bergman film and Jan Troell's $3 million film about Swedish engineer August Andree's ill-fated bid to reach the North Pole by balloon in 1897, which has already gone over budget.

The federation demanded that the institute's accounts for both films be made public, "because the Film Institute's undertakings can influence the working situation of Sweden's filmmakers for a long time to come."

An irritated Donner commented: "The financing of 'Fanny and Alexander' is 100 percent settled. I can't give away all my business secrets.What good is that going to do?"

Bergman himself steers clear of the controversy. "In an international context, it is not a large amount of money," he said. "An ordinary, average American movie costs the same amount.'

As for the film, he says, it "will be like a large tapestry, with an awful lot of people, colors, houses, forests, mystical places, and night skies."

It is the story of an aristocratic family: a grandmother, her three sons and their families. "It is notm autobiographical," Bergman said.

Due to be premiered simultaneously in Stockholm, New York, and London over Christmas 1982, "Fanny and Alexander" will be Bergman's last Swedish film. He is under contract to make one more movie with English dialogue in Germany.

While he provides details about his movie, the veteran director sidesteps questions about other matters, such as his row with the Swedish taxman which resulted in a self-imposed eight-year exile in West Germany.

Bergman simply smiles and asks innocently, "Row? What row?"

"I suppose," he says, when pressed, "that it might make the background to a comedy."

He intends to move back to Sweden for good in 1982 or 1983. "Filming is hard work and I'm starting to get old," he notes.

The cast of "Fanny and Alexander" contains no big names. The main character Helena Ekdahl is played by Gunn Wallgren, making her film debut.

"It will be a bit romantic but not too much so," said Bergman. "One thing that is nice is that I can speak Swedish again. I always thought I was fluent in German until I started making films in Germany. There are so many nuances to get across."

"Klart for tagning," he called again.

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