Having explored processes of racialisation of Jews in discursive constructions of “Swedishness” in the public debate, we now turn to an analysis of racialisation of the category of Jews as expressed in a well-known Swedish cultural artefact: Ingmar Bergman’s film Fanny and Alexander (Bergman 1982a). As already mentioned in Chapter 4, ethnologist Barbro Klein (2003) has remarked that Sweden is a country where it is possible to show Fanny and Alexander without the audience grasping that one of its most central figures is a Jew. Klein explains this as a result of what she argues is a general and longstanding silence and lack of interest from the majority population concerning Jewish life and culture in Sweden.
In this chapter, I take Klein’s remark as a point of entry to explore features of anti-Jewish racism in the Swedish racial regime. By focusing on the representation of the Jewish characters in the film, their relation to the non-Jewish characters, and their function for the overall plot, I analyse how different constructions of “Swedishness” open up for diverse expressions of anti-Jewish racism and the construction of the category of Jews. As a cultural artefact, Fanny and Alexander offers the opportunity to explore how racism and constructions of Swedishness can be expressed within the realm of artistic imagination. This exploration therefore opens up for seeing other features of anti-Jewish racism in the Swedish racial regime, through chains of association and phantasies. That being said, the analysis is inspired by critical discourse analysis with special focus on the tension between representation and power, and connects to the analysis in the previous chapter and to the theoretical framework. The tradition of visual analysis (Rose 2007), while relevant for an exploration of images acting upon film narratives, falls outside the scope of this analysis. In the chapters
dedicated to the in-depth interviews, we will see how the discourse analysis and film analysis bridge, resemble and yet are different from lived experiences of anti-Jewish racism in the Swedish racial regime.
Race in Swedish film
The characters identified as Jewish in Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander from 1982 can be seen in light of a tradition of Swedish film production portraying people from racialised, minoritised groups. Writing explicitly about the representation of Jews, but also of other ethnic minorities, film theorist Rochelle Wright (2005) has argued that Swedish film production up until the 1960s was full of ethnic stereotypes. This included racial stereotyping of Jews, but also of Roma people, the Sámi and Finns. As far as cinematographic representation of Jews is concerned, Swedish film in the 1930s only rarely verbally denoted characters as Jewish, according to Wright, but reverted to stereotypical phenotypical traits to construct the Jewish “Other”: “dark, curly hair; a large, hooked nose; flamboyant gestures and body language; a strong accent; or a typical Jewish name”, not least in the genre of Pilsnerfilm (Wright 2005, 56).26 Moreover, Jews in Swedish films during this time, such as Kära släkten (Dear Relatives) and Söderkåkar (Shanty Town), typically appeared as moneylenders or pawnbrokers, and sometimes constituted a threat that needed to be eliminated to ensure the film’s happy ending, Wright asserts. The kind of films that included this type of depiction of Jews was extremely popular in Sweden at the time and reached an audience in cinemas close to one million viewers (Wright 2005, 57).
During the Second World War, however, racist caricatures of Jews seem to have disappeared from Swedish film production, paving the way for portrayals of Jews as victims of Nazi persecution. While there were also some positive representations of the Roma in the years following the end of the War, Wright argues that until the 1960s Swedish film plots were generally structured around an “us against them” ideology, in which ethnic minority groups had the function to construct a common Swedish identity in opposition to those minorities (Wright 2005, 58). From the 1960s onwards, however, Swedish films have increasingly tried to encourage the audience to feel solidarity with ethnic minorities, including recently arrived refugees to Sweden, as well as
26 Swedish genre of farcical comedy from the 1930s, largely focusing on the intake of hard liquor and beer (from which it gets its name). The films were produced during a period of restricted-alcohol policy in Sweden.
Jews as victims of antisemitism (Wright 1998, 391-92). This resembles the argument put forward by sociologist Carina Tigervall (2005), who has explored the representation of the category of “the immigrant” (invandraren) in Swedish films from the 1970s to the early 2000s. In her material she found that the “immigrant” was portrayed in a paradoxical manner. On the one hand, they were often depicted as a “sympathetic” person—childlike, passionate, good-hearted—possibly reflecting a humanistic and sometimes antiracist agenda of the film-makers. On the other hand, they were also portrayed as fundamentally “different”, in a way that opposed them to Swedishness in terms of constructions of culture, gender and race. Thus, according to Tigervall, Swedish films have produced a sympathetic image of “immigrants” through the use of positive stereotypes, but simultaneously reproduced notions of a fundamental difference between the categories of “Swedes” and “immigrants”.
In that sense, there are similarities between Tigervall’s assertion that immigrants are often portrayed as sympathetic, yet different, and Wright’s argument that Swedish film productions since the 1960s increasingly have encouraged the audience to feel solidarity with ethnic minorities, including Jews as victims of antisemitism.
Previous analyses of Fanny and Alexander
When it comes to analyses of Fanny and Alexander in particular, Wright has paid attention to the representation of the Jewish characters in the film, observing that the character of Isak Jacobi bears stereotypical Jewish traits, and that Erland Josephson, the Swedish-Jewish actor who played the role, later expressed his disappointment in Ingmar Bergman for reproducing stereotypical notions of Jewishness (Wright 1998, 243). Wright has also argued that while the same character is portrayed as “not fully integrated”, he is still “loved and appreciated” by the Swedish family in the film, and that in general “the Jewish characters are identified with the life-affirming, positive values of artistic creation, and of image and mystery” (Wright 1998, 246).
Other analyses of Fanny and Alexander have tended to focus on the personal development of the film’s protagonist, the young boy Alexander. For example, Lynda Bundtzen (1987) has argued that Fanny and Alexander has the form of a Bildungsroman (“educational novel”), through which Alexander acquires personal maturity. Deploying a psychoanalytical gaze, she analyses the film as a portrayal of Alexander’s oedipal struggle with his dead father or with several father figures. Diana Diamond (2007) has classified the film as a
Künstlerroman (“artist’s novel”), arguing that it reflects Bergman’s own journey toward artistic growth, and she links it to Bergman’s autobiography (Haverty 1988) and his memoirs (Bergman 1988).
Some scholars have analysed the film from a gender perspective. For example, Marylin Blackwell has emphasised the patriarchal Lutheran tradition that is present in the film, linking this to Bergman’s personal rebellion against his own father, who was a priest (Blackwell 1999, 1997). She has noted how the Jewish characters in the film are portrayed in a feminised or androgynous way, and that they are located as a positive contrast to Lutheran Christianity, which is represented in extremely negative tones. She has also remarked that one of the Jewish characters is an embodiment of transgression of sexual boundaries (Blackwell 1997). The same analysis has led Daniel Humphrey (2013) to regard the film as having a queer element, linking this to a longer tradition in Bergman’s production. He has also remarked that both one of the Jewish and one of the non-Jewish characters can be read as queer. Other scholars have remarked on the homoerotic tension between Alexander and Ismael, the nephew of Isak (Hayes 1997; Wood 2013).
Also, it should be noted that there are actually three versions of Fanny and Alexander. First, there is the film manuscript (Bergman 1982b) that was considerably altered once it was brought to the screen. Then, there are two cinematographic versions of the film. One is a five-hour version that was broadcast on Swedish television in 1984 in the format of a mini-series consisting of four episodes. The other is a shorter, three-hour version, which premiered in Swedish cinemas just before Christmas in 1982 (Bergman, Donner, and Nykvist 2003). Since the latter is the version of Fanny and Alexander that repeatedly is broadcast on public Swedish TV, that is the one I focus on in this chapter.27
27 A few things could be said about antisemitism in light of Bergman’s own life, since this is a discussion that has recurred a few times in Swedish public debate. After the publication of Laterna magica, Bergman’s (1988) memoir, author Jan Myrdal questioned Bergman’s alleged unawareness of Nazi Germany’s antisemitic persecutions and genocide. In the late 1990s the same allegations were brought up by journalist Maria-Pia Boëthius (for an overview of this debate, see Steene 2005, 984). After Bergman’s death in 2007, the debate surfaced once again in Swedish newspapers, with Boëthius and journalist Cordelia Edvardson questioning the public appraisal of Bergman’s oeuvre, in light of his possible fascination with Hitler (Ohlin 2009). This was, however, refuted by journalist Cecilia Hagen, who argued that these allegations were exaggerated and that Bergman’s memoir should be read as an artistic dramatisation of his life and not as a literal account of actual facts (Hagen 2007). While the Swedish public’s relation to Bergman and to his possible antisemitic and Nazi past could indeed have been interesting toanalyse in relation to the overall topic of this dissertation, this chapter, however, focuses neither on Bergman’s biography, nor on the reception of his oeuvre, but is restricted to an analysis of Fanny and Alexander.
Visual representations of the “Other”
The analysis of Fanny and Alexander has been inspired by the tradition of Black British cultural studies (Baker, Diawara, and Lindeborg 1996), and in particular the work of sociologist and cultural theorist Stuart Hall. In “The Spectacle of the
‘Other’”, Hall (1997) discusses visual culture in relation to racism. Influenced by psychoanalytically orientated concepts, such as splitting, projection, phantasy and ambivalence, Hall explores the connection between representation, difference and power in racist society. Although Hall writes specifically about the representation of Black women and men, his text provides a frame for thinking about visual representation of non-white racial categories in white society in general (see also hooks 1992). According to Hall, “stereotyping” is central for the representation of racial difference, in the sense that it is a process which “reduces, essentializes, naturalizes and fixes 'difference'” (Hall 1997, 258). By representing racial categories through stereotypes, a binary opposition is created between the white Self and the racial “Other”, which then are located in a hierarchical order, to the detriment of the latter. In this process, moreover, boundaries are created between the Self and the “Other”, exaggerating and simplifying the differences between them. Pointing out that stereotyping only occurs in a context characterised by gross inequalities of power, Hall also argues that the function of stereotypical representation of racial difference is to maintain the social and symbolic order (ibid.).
Arguing, furthermore, that phantasies—including both desire and fear—are central in racist representations of the racial “Other”, Hall observes how those racialised as non-white are trapped in a binary structure of representation.
Through the example of representation of Black men, Hall remarks that both during the period of slavery and in today’s racist society shaped by it, white men’s phantasies have implied representations of Black men as simultaneously deprived of masculinity and as hyper-masculine. Hall argues that these representations reflect white men’s fear and desire for Black men, respectively.
According to Hall, this results in Black men still having to manoeuvre a binary logic of being represented as both childlike and oversexed at the same time (p.
263). Central to these racist representations of the racial “Other” are thus the simultaneous stereotypes of the “Other” as both weak and strong. Hall argues that the depiction of the Black man as childlike—an expression of notions of Black weakness—in reality reflects the white man’s fear of the Black man; a fear to which the white man reacts by portraying the Black man as weak and thus as inferior to him. According to Hall, it is therefore important to analyse these simultaneous and ambivalent racist representations together as a whole, to understand how these phantasies are part of constructions of racial difference
(ibid.)—in other words, to explore representations of the racial “Other” and the making of racial difference, Hall asserts that it is necessary to understand that there are phantasies embedded in racial representations, some of which are not directly visible in the representation itself, but rather reflect racial phantasies circulating in society, which it might not be possible to express directly.
Hall’s observations of the ways in which the making of racial difference works through ambivalent phantasies seem to resonate with analyses of anti-Jewish racist representations. As already discussed in the chapter on previous research, phantasies about Jewish wealth and power are common in anti-Jewish rhetoric. These phantasies often take the form of conspiracy theories, in which Jews are imagined to secretly govern the world. In the outline of previous research, we also saw how Jewish men have sometimes been portrayed as effeminate and weak, in opposition to images of white “Aryan”
masculinities (Boyarin 1997). Through the framework provided by Hall, we can regard these contradictory depictions of Jews as both super-powerful as well as weak/effeminate as representations of racist phantasies of Jewish strength and weakness, respectively. According to Hall, then, these very different portrayals should therefore be analysed together, as part of a larger social reality, reflecting a white/“Aryan” fear and desire for the racial “Other”.
In our case, therefore, it becomes relevant to explore how stereotypical images of both Jewish strength and weakness are present in the racial representations of Jews in Fanny and Alexander.
A tripartite division of racial-religious-gendered space
I analyse the plot of Fanny and Alexander as constituted by three distinct spaces through which the protagonist, the ten-year-old boy Alexander, travels, accompanied by his younger sister Fanny. Each of these spaces has a series of racial, religious and gendered features of its own, conveying a particular relationship between the film’s Jewish and non-Jewish characters. In what follows, I will first give a short initial description of how I read these three racial-religious-gendered spaces, in order to give the reader who is unfamiliar with the film a sense of its storyline. Thereafter, I proceed to a more detailed analysis of how the Jewish characters are portrayed in each one of these identified spaces, the function of these characters for the overall development of the film, and how I analyse this in relation to racism and notions of “Swedishness”.
The first space is the universe of the Ekdahl family, revolving around its matriarch and Alexander’s grandmother, Helena. This is a bourgeois milieu in
Uppsala at the beginning of the twentieth century, portrayed, particularly through the Christmas celebrations at the beginning of the film, as a jovial, colourful and lavish space with plenty of servants, food and drink. It is characterised by an atmosphere that is almost burlesque, filled with laughter and sexual and scatological jokes. The women in this space are portrayed as strong, the men as weak, and extramarital affairs appear to be common. Several events of a Christian character are celebrated in this space: Christmas, a funeral, a wedding and a christening. This notwithstanding, there are no religious authorities or expressions of Christian morality in the family home.
One film critic has regarded the Ekdahl home to be an expression of a “life-affirming, pagan Christianity” (R.S. Brown 2005), due to its humoristic and warm atmosphere. A close friend of Helena’s, Isak Jacobi, a Jewish man wearing a kippah, is present at all these family gatherings.
After the death of Alexander’s father Oscar, Alexander’s mother Emelie decides to remarry bishop Edvard Vergerus. This leads to Alexander, together with his mother and sister, moving into the bishop’s residence, constituting the second space of the film. This universe revolves around the male religious authority of the bishop, to whom the rest of the household—including his wife, mother, sister, aunts and female servants—submit, with the exception of Alexander. It is a rigid and ascetic space characterised by a “Lutheran patriarchy” (Bundtzen 1987), rules to obey, and strong dichotomies: truth-lie, darkness-light, dominance-submission. The bishop is portrayed as a sadist who keeps his wife and her children as prisoners, and who humiliates and canes Alexander when he tries to challenge the bishop’s authority. The bishop and his sister are portrayed as explicitly antisemitic.
At the request of their grandmother, Fanny and Alexander are rescued from the episcopal residence by Isak Jacobi, who brings the children to his home and antique shop, which is the third space that Alexander travels through. This is represented as a mystic and magical space, where Isak lives with his adult nephews Aron and Ismael. This cabbalistic universe is partly presented as frightening and potentially dangerous but also as exciting to Alexander. It stimulates his curiosity and fantasy, and makes him ponder upon his relationship with God. The most intense scene is focused on Ismael, played by Finland Swedish actor Stina Ekblad, who has an androgynous or gender-fluid appearance, and is described as sick and dangerous. Overall, it is a space with homoerotic tensions, where categories seem to be fluid, and the boundaries between reality and phantasy, but also between subjects, have been dissolved.
During Alexander’s stay in the household, and as a consequence of Alexander’s imagination and willpower, assisted by Ismael, the bishop dies in a fire at his residence. The bishop’s death frees Alexander, his sister and their
mother from the legal bonds to the bishop’s authority. Once free, they return home to the Ekdahl universe, resulting in a happy ending emphasised by the joyful celebration of the christening of two babies, newly born into the family.
Isak as a guest of the Ekdahls
Within the Ekdahl universe, Isak Jacobi participates in all the festivities—often in a Christian frame—celebrated by the Ekdahls. However, his participation in these events implies a position of periphery. In the scenes from the emblematic Christmas celebrations at the beginning of the film, this becomes evident, since Isak is consistently placed at the margins or at the back in the scene when the family is gathered to listen to a reading of the Christmas gospel, and during the family’s line dance through the rooms of the apartment. These details illustrate his position of an outsider, albeit a welcome one, in the Ekdahl family home.
Moreover, despite the welcoming and inviting atmosphere in the Ekdahl universe, there is also evidence of racism beneath the surface. In a scene between Helena’s son Carl and his wife Lydia, Carl confesses that he is close to personal bankruptcy. Lydia then suggests that he go to “the Jew” to ask for money. Carl replies vehemently that he has already borrowed money from him and refers to that loan as “usury”. This scene thus troubles the warm-hearted open atmosphere of the Ekdahl family, and shows the existence of antisemitic tropes in the midst of this universe.
On Christmas Eve, when the family has gone to bed, Isak and Helena remain awake, engaging in a one-sided conversation, in which Helena cries and laments the loss of her youth, while Isak patiently listens and comforts her. We get to know that the two used to be lovers but now have a platonic friendship.
She later refers to her way of talking incessantly as “monologising, as Isak calls it”; and the portrayal of the conversation as one-sided, with Isak comforting Helena, is reminiscent of how people racialised as non-white have often been given the task of listening to the problems of people racialised as white (Appiah 1993; Bernardi 2007; hooks 1992). The conversation ends when Helena has to prepare herself for the Christmas Day morning service, and Isak returns to his home.
Thus, this central Jewish character in the film is portrayed as a welcome, yet somewhat marginal, guest in the Ekdahl universe. This is done both through his placement at the margins of the scenes, and is emphasised through the dialogue between Helena and Isak, in which he plays the part of listener, taking care of Helena’s feelings of sorrow and melancholy. While it has often been highlighted
in previous research that Isak is welcome in the Ekdahl family, which then in turn would indicate an atmosphere inclusive of Jews (Wright 1998), this portrayal of Isak is reminiscent of the depiction of migrants as “sympathetic” yet
“different”, which Tigervall (2005) has argued characterises Swedish film production. In Fanny and Alexander Isak is indeed portrayed as a sympathetic character but also as different from the Jacobi universe. Through this difference, embodying something other than the Swedish Protestant secularism that the Ekdahl universe represents, he is portrayed as belonging elsewhere. In that way, he can be interpreted as not “truly belonging”, in the words of Yuval-Davis (2011), to the form of “Swedishness” that the Ekdahls symbolise.
As far as gender is concerned, the weak masculinities of the Ekdahl universe (where the men have sexual and economic problems) are contrasted with the strong women, particularly the matriarch Helena, but also the sons’ wives, as well as some of the female staff (Bundtzen 1987). These are portrayed as capable women, economically powerful and/or with a strong determination, organising their families and trying to prevent the men of the household from falling apart both economically and emotionally. Besides that, they engage in extramarital liaisons, and are thus depicted as both responsible and hedonistic.
All this implies a portrayal of the Ekdahls as a matrilinear family, in sharp contrast to the bishop’s household.
When it comes to gender and the portrayal of Isak, Blackwell (1999) has identified Isak Jacobi as an example of a feminised masculinity. He is not married, has no children, and, although he once had a love affair with Helena, this is no longer the case; nevertheless he is portrayed as very caring. While the notion of Jewish feminised masculinity is part of European racist history (Gilman 1993; Boyarin 1997), it is interesting that in the film this feminised masculinity renders Isak sympathetic in the eyes of the Ekdahl family, although it should be noted that the fact that Emelie turns to him when her children are in danger also means that he is attributed certain stereotypically masculine qualities, such as courage. The partly stereotypical reproduction of Jewishness is shown in a positive light, and portrayed as something that contributes favourably to the Ekdahls, not as anything threatening to their universe. Reminding ourselves of the strong connection between gender and race for the constructions of national belonging, as developed both by Yuval-Davis (1997) and McClintock (1995), I suggest that the asymmetries between the feminisation of Isak Jacobi (together with, as we shall see, the other Jewish character in the film) and the masculine authority of the bishop, but also of Alexander’s coming of age, express a gendered aspect of the racialisation of the Jewish characters in the film. In that sense, feminisation and racialisation seem to be tightly knit together in the depiction of these characters in the film.
Isak as the selfless saviour of Fanny and Alexander
Once Alexander, his sister and mother have moved to the episcopal residence, they are confronted by the harsh rules and ascetic lifestyle of the bishop. This is therefore portrayed as a very patriarchal space, in sharp contrast to the Ekdahl universe. What has been described as an oedipal struggle between Alexander and his new stepfather (Bundtzen 1987) develops, culminating in the bishop locking up the children while their mother is away. During a humiliating interrogation, Alexander is forced to ask the bishop for forgiveness for a lie/fantasy he has told, after which he is brutally caned by the bishop, in front of the other members of the household. Once Emelie comes back home and finds her maltreated son, Helena contacts Isak Jacobi for help to rescue the children from the bishop.
In order to rescue the children, Isak arrives at the bishop’s residence on the excuse that he would like to buy a chest for his antique shop. He is first confronted by the bishop’s sister, who treats him scornfully, makes antisemitic remarks, and is unwilling to let him meet her brother, until she realises Isak has brought a lot of money. Through the use of magic, Isak manages to hide the children in the chest that he is about to buy. The bishop, who senses that something wrong is happening, bursts out in an antisemitic tirade against Isak.
However, once again through the use of magic, Isak manages to fool the bishop and smuggle the children to his home and antique shop.
From my perspective, this is a fascinating part of the film, opening up for multiple interpretations. Wright (2005) has remarked that this scene in particular is full of racial stereotypes of Jews, notably the theme of money and Isak’s deployment of “cabbalistic magic” (Haverty 1988). First of all, I find it noteworthy that Isak’s actions are pivotal to the rescue of Fanny and Alexander from their de facto prison in the bishop’s residence. In that sense, Isak is portrayed as being necessary for the later return of the children to the Ekdahls, and for restoring the happy Swedish family atmosphere. Despite this, it is remarkable that Isak is never thanked by the Ekdahls; his deeds remain unacknowledged. At the end of the film, when the christening of two new-born Ekdahl children is celebrated, Isak is once again relegated to his customary marginal position as a friend/guest of the Ekdahl family. Indeed, throughout the film, Isak is portrayed as an active subject only in his capacity of rescuing Fanny and Alexander from the bishop’s cruelty.
Secondly, the fact that the bishop and his sister engage in explicitly antisemitic behaviour toward Isak portrays ecclesiastical Protestantism as closely tied to expressions of antisemitism. This contrasts with the warm atmosphere of the bourgeois Protestant-secular Ekdahl space, where Isak is a