Scenes From a Marriage (Scener ur ett äktenskap) [DVD]
Director : Ingmar Bergman
Screenplay : Ingmar Bergman
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 1973
Stars : Liv Ullmann (Marianne), Erland Josephson (Johan), Bibi Andersson (Katarina), Jan Malmsjö (Peter), Gunnel Lindblom (Eva)
From the very beginning, you can tell something is wrong, just under the surface. When Marianne (Liv Ullmann) and Johan (Erland Josephson), who have been married for 10 years, sit down for a magazine interview about their “perfect” marriage, there is an underlying sense of unease, as if they are playacting their roles of husband and wife, rather than living them. He is too sure of himself; she is too timid. When they hold hands, it looks forced and uncomfortable. Their recounting of how they met and came together is too pedestrian, and when they say they finally “fell in love,” it sounds more like they’re saying what they know readers want to hear, rather than what they really feel.
Thus begins Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes From a Marriage (Scener ur ett äktenskap), which was originally shot as a five-part miniseries for Swedish television and was later edited down into a three-hour feature film. In it, he recounts the gradual dissolution of Johan and Marianne’s marriage in five “scenes” that take place over 10 years. Bergman, who had been married four times by the time he made the film, brings a compelling intimacy to the story, reaching deep within to root out all the conflicting emotions—love, anger, disappointment, fear, longing, betrayal, desperation—that erupt in such situations. Ironically, after he wrote it, Bergman felt that no one would be interested in it because it was too “private.” Yet, that is precisely the film’s power: It drives deep into a set of universal emotions with which anyone who has been in a serious relationship can identify on some level.
In many ways, Scenes From a Marriage is much different from Bergman’s other films, particularly Cries and Whispers, which he made immediately before it. There is no heavy symbolism, meaningful dream sequences, or elliptical fantasies, and the mise-en-scène is deliberately spare, devoid of metaphorical import or stylistic flourish. There is very little action; rather, virtually everything in the film is conveyed through dialogue, which is often unflinchingly raw and always illuminating, easily some of Bergman’s best work on the page.
While the film’s visual restrictions are partially due to Bergman’s having shot the film on a meager budget for the small screen, it works to the story’s advantage, focusing the viewer’s attention squarely on Johan and Marianne. Working once again with cinematographer Sven Nykvist (who won an Oscar for Cries and Whispers), Bergman shot the film almost entirely with long takes in medium close-ups and close-ups, thus accentuating how the interiority of the soul can be writ large in a single facial expression or flick of the eye. Of course, the emphatic use of close-ups requires top-notch work from the actors, and Erland Josephson and Liv Ullmann, who had both worked with Bergman before (he wrote the script specifically for them), deliver a pair of perfect performances.
Johan is a university professor who eventually leaves Marianne for a younger woman, and Josephson flawlessly captures his masculine-in-his-prime ego without turning the character into a unredeemable cad. Johan’s behavior is detestable, but sadly understandable. Unlike Marianne, his character arc is one of a downward spiral, as his cocky self-assuredness in his intellect and his sexual prowess gradually deteriorates, leaving him with nothing but questions when he thought he had all the answers. This is partially foreshadowed in a scene in which he confides in one of his colleagues and good friends by allowing her to read his poetry, which he hopes to have published, and she politely tells him it’s no good. In a sense, that is Johan in a nutshell: The misguided romantic who’s always looking for more and finding failure.
Marianne, on the other hand, moves in the opposite direction. In the first half of the film, Liv Ullmann invests her with a sense of dependence and desperation; although she has an (ironic) professional life as a divorce lawyer, she has clearly defined herself in terms of her family, and once that falls apart, she is left with nothing. The scene in which Johan confesses his affair and tells her that he is leaving for Paris the next morning with his new lover is absolutely devastating. Marianne tries so desperately to hold it together that she sinks into pathetic banalities like offering to pack his suitcase for him and pick up his suit at the dry cleaners before he leaves. However, once on her own, Marianne finds a new sense of self, and with each scene, she grows stronger and more independent, better able to articulate her feelings and define herself outside of a relationship with Johan.
The last two scenes, one of which depicts Johan and Marianne’s finally signing the divorce papers and the second of which depicts them 10 years later, stress the film’s separation of genuine love and affection and the social institutions within which those emotions are framed in modern society. For Johan and Marianne, marriage did not work, to each other or to anyone else. Yet, a decade after the bitter moments in which they signed the divorce papers, we find them sneaking off together for a weekend in each other’s arms, even though they are both remarried to other people. Bergman doesn’t offer any easy answers, and it would be trivializing to suggest the romanticized notion that they do this simply because they are “soul mates.”
Yet, there is clearly something spiritual in their relationship that keeps them from ever separating completely. They couldn’t make a life together work, yet they can’t ever be truly separated either, thus connecting Scenes From a Marriage with so many other of Bergman’s works that stress the concomitant strength and vulnerability of human emotion. One might expect a film that centers on the dissolution of a marriage to be fraught with bitterness, but that is not the case at all because it is only the marriage that breaks down. Meanwhile, the human connection between them, tenuous and always in flux, remains to the end—flawed, but existent.
|Scenes From a Marriage Criterion Collection Three-Disc DVD Set|
|This three-disc set contains two versions of the film: the full 299-minute version originally broadcast on Swedish TV and the 169-minute theatrical cut.|
|Audio||Swedish Dolby Digital 1.0 Monaural|
|Supplements|| 1986 video interview with Ingmar Bergman|
New video interviews with stars Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson
Video interview with scholar Peter Cowie comparing the two versions
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection / Home Vision Entertainment|
|Release Date||March 16, 2004|
|Scenes From a Marriage was originally shot for television on 16mm, thus it is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio and the new high-definition transfer has a slightly grainy look to it, as it should. Both versions of the film were transferred from the original 16mm negative A/B cut, and they both look absolutely superb. Digital cleansing was done via Quantel and IQ Inferno Restoration Systems (the first time, I believe, Criterion has utilized these), resulting in a nearly flawless presentation. Once again, props must go to Criterion for an outstanding transfer and also for presenting the film in its entirety for the first time on U.S. home video. Bergman fans rejoice!|
|The soundtrack, presented in its original Swedish in Dolby Digital monaural, was mastered at 24-bit from the original 35mm magnetic print. As there is virtually no nondiegetic music in the film, the soundtrack is limited entirely to dialogue and various sound effects, all of which sound clear and natural.|
|Each of the three discs includes a supplemental interview. The first disc contains a 15-minute interview with writer/director Ingmar Bergman filmed for Swedish TV in 1986, in which he discusses the emotions in the film and their connection to Swedish culture. The second disc features brand-new video interviews with the film’s two stars, Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson (the interviews were conducted separately, but are edited together in one 25-minute segment). And, on the third disc, the always reliable film scholar Peter Cowie discusses the various differences between the television miniseries and theatrical versions of the film, paying particular attention to how excised scenes affect its tone and meaning.|
Copyright ©2004 James Kendrick
All images copyright © AB Svensk Filmindustri and The Criterion Collection