Scenes from a Marriage (1973)

Written & Directed by Ingmar Bergman

I am a big fan of the work of Ingmar Bergman, which personally is somewhat of a mystery to me. When I started listening to the Filmspotting podcast a couple years ago, I was just starting to get into film. I would watch whatever I could get my hands on and was a sucker for the romantic comedy, still am. But my boundaries were not very wide when it came to types and styles of film. Ingmar Bergman was mentioned a lot on that podcast, at least for an episode or two, so I decided Bergman would be my first foray into the unknown treasures of the film world. I was hooked instantaneously and have a couple of his films in my Top 100, but the obsession quickly died off and I failed to seek out more of his films because I had moved on to new discoveries, like another favorite of mine, Terrence Malick. The difference is Bergman was much more prolific, so I say it is about time to come back to the Swedish master.

The interesting thing about this film is its format. It was originally produced as a six part television mini series, but Bergman also re edited it for a theatrical release, which is what I watched, and it was still close to being 3 hours long. Marianne (Liv Ullmann) and Johan (Erland Josephson) have been happily married for the last 10 years. They are envied by their friends (Bibi Andersson, Jan Malmsjo) and even have a magazine article written, chronically their idyllic marriage. But soon their perfect marriage begins to corrode, but through the years, together and separate, their loves still seems to remain and even grow.

There is just something about Ingmar Bergman and his works that seems to make sense to me. There is a connection that his films are able to make to me which is not able to be explained. This is a film about marriage, I am not and never have been married. This is a film about a serious, close relationship, I have never been in a close relationship. This is a film about two people being in love with each other, I have never been in love. And yet I was still seemingly connected to the film, fascinated with the relationship and on the edge of my seat for everything that was going on for Marianne and Johan, but mostly Marianne, which an interesting phenomenon given I am a man. I think it is clear the film focuses more on Marianne, though really they are the only two characters in the film to begin with.

Marianne is a wonderful character and spending time with her on her journey is what makes this film as great as it is. It is a wonderfully written character from Bergman the writer. And this stroke of the pen allows Liv Ullmann to give what is one of the single best performances on screen I have ever seen, and I do not mean that to be a hyperbole. Ullmann owns the screen in every scene and can go from confused spouse,  to loving wife, to understandably shaken and upset and pulls every emotion off beautifully. Josephson as Johan is also quite good, and the two are so good together, as they have to be. They are the type of couple that I want to spend as much time with as possible.

But despite that sensation, similar to the one I had with Gerri and Tom from Mike Leigh’s Another Year, Marianne and Johan have a troubled relationship that includes one spouse cheating on the other and ultimately the “D” word, divorce. This is not always a pretty story, though it ends up being a heartbreakingly beautiful depiction of a couple truly in love with each other (though then again maybe that is that naive shroud that is still veiling my eyes from reality). I cannot testify to the accuracy of marriage shown here, but for me it rings very true and evolves very naturally, as Bergman strings together scene after scene, as time goes by, of just Johan and Marianne in their life, talking. It sounds like a boring three hours, but it is explosive in its use of heart, deceit, and most importantly, love. Perhaps next time I will not spend so much time apart from Bergman.


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