Bergman’s celebrated six-part mini-series, Scenes
from a Marriage, premiered on Swedish television in 1973. For markets
outside of his native country, Bergman cut the 297-minute TV version down to
169-minutes (not quite three hours) for a theatrical release in 1974—which is
the version I first saw.
recently discovered Bergman in the early 1970s while attending college, I
welcomed Scenes with enthusiasm and
awe, as did most critics. The film received numerous accolades, although the
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences deemed the picture ineligible for
Oscars since it had previously been a television mini-series. The acclaim for
the film, director/writer Bergman, and the movie’s two brilliant actors, Liv
Ullmann and Erland Josephson, was through the roof.
a nutshell, it’s the intimate, often painful, sometimes joyful story of the
twenty-year relationship of a married-then-divorced couple. The tale begins in
1965. Upper-middle-class Marianne and Johan have been married for ten years.
They have two tween daughters (who are seen only very briefly in the first few
seconds of the picture) and are seemingly happy. However, when Johan has an
affair with “Paula” (who never appears), the inevitable separation ensues,
followed by a divorce. But as ten more years elapse, Marianne and Johan
continue to occasionally see each other—even when they’re dating or married to
others—in an ongoing, never-ending tryst.
fact, in 2003, Bergman made a sequel to Scenes
from a Marriage. Saraband was a
Swedish TV-movie that was also released theatrically worldwide, and it featured
the now elderly Marianne and Johan, again played by Ullmann and Josephson. (Oddly,
their daughters’ names in Scenes are
Karin and Eva, whereas in Saraband their
names are Martha and Sara! Go figure.) Saraband
was Bergman’s final film.
made Scenes so remarkable back in
1973/1974 was its frankness, realism, and the camera’s near-claustrophobic
closeness to the actors—especially their faces and what they revealed through
subtle expressions or glances. Bergman, perhaps more than any other filmmaker,
used the landscape of the face to reveal the genuine subtext of a character’s
thoughts. The intimacy achieved in the work was revelatory, and the film is
said to have gone on to influence other filmmakers (most notably Woody Allen).
had revisited Scenes from a Marriage a
few times since its first release, but now having the chance to dive into The
Criterion Collection’s new Blu-ray edition, I approached the picture with a
fresh eye and mind, especially informed by the experience of age and a long marriage
of my own.
came away this time a bit puzzled. Who are
these people, that they can be so matter-of-fact about adultery and
mistresses and lovers? It’s as if it’s taken for granted that all married
people will have affairs at some point. Back in the early 70s, I suppose we all
thought that this was being “civilized” or “behaving like adults.” Or perhaps
it was a Swedish or European thing!
is more likely, however, that Scenes from
a Marriage was written and directed to be a somewhat autobiographical
treatise. Ingmar Bergman was married no less than five times, had numerous love
affairs (and mistresses while married), including a five-year romance with Liv
Ullmann (he was the father of her only child). Maybe in his world, or in the contemporary universe of artists and the literati in which Marianne and Johan
reside, this kind of attitude existed.