Bergman 100: Our Review of ‘Scenes from a Marriage’

Posted in Movies, Retrospective, Theatrical by - November 07, 2018
Bergman 100: Our Review of ‘Scenes from a Marriage’

I saw Scenes from a Marriage, all five hours of it. And it fits in with Swedish director Ingmar Bergman’s filmography of generational soul searching. This is in opposition with the previous generation that the protagonist Marianne’s (Liv Ullmann) mother (Gunnel Lindblom) represented. Those people had a simple trajectory – birth, suffering in silence and retaliation when their spouses had affairs, off screen death. Marianne and therefore Bergman break free from this cycle by exercising their free will. Well, that is mostly the job of Marianne’s husband Johan (Erland Josephson).

Johan and Marianne, during the beginning of the series, have a relatively happy decade long marriage. A six part miniseries, it spends the first two segments showing how they deal with abortions and botched vacation plans. The abortion, by the way, is fascinating. Most audiences just assume that married women kept their babies, especially bourgeois women like Marianne. The series, wisely and progressively even for its time, doesn’t judge her. If anything, it judges Johan not just for his passiveness but for his decisions later on in the series.

Johan and Marianne could have spent the rest of the series in bed reading just like the iconic images show them do. But during the third episode, he reveals that he’s having an affair with a younger, less attractive woman, Paula, who we never see. She’s initially stoic about this revelation, making him increasingly cruel. They’re already fascinating while enduring the small missteps of a bourgeois couple. But Johan’s decision to leave Marianne eliminates the idea that these two are archetypes and the series further explores these two characters.

It’s unwise to assume that couples in the past never loved each other and only married each other because of tradition. Johan, like all of us, have so many choices now. Marrying Marianne because they got along until the didn’t, the series also explores the idea of knowing what love is after losing it, if they ever did lose it. If anything, their messy divorce, which they dragged their feet on, exposed stronger feelings of love and hatred. Feelings they never would have felt had they decided not to separate.

Post screening discussions centered on whether or not they loved each other. Some say they never did because of their marriage’s shaky foundation. There is also the usual gripe that most heterosexual couples have who stay together. Or in Johan and Marianne’s case, cheat on their spouses with each other because of familiarity. Speaking from experience, nothing is scarier that constantly going out into the void. But I say what Johan tells Marianne, that he loves her because he says he loves her, and his words should actually count.

Bergman captures their tribulations and possibly toxic reunions like the auteur would. He just came off of his Oscar nominated Cries and Whispers. There he uses pans, tilts, and diagonal camera movements with an astronomer’s precision. He uses those the same techniques here but for comic effect. There’s also his world famous close-ups, which highlight the characters’ isolation. There are scenes where they’re never in the same frame. But when they are every facial expression and emotion is out in the open, Ullmann and Josephson exposing their hearts on screen.

Special kudos to Ullmann who cradles Josephson in her arms even when his character didn’t deserve it. She also did her nails in the third episode off screen just in case her man was going to leave her, and did them again during the last two episodes. There’s no way Bergman told her to do that, and by showing her initiative, she arguably has the best manicure in television history.


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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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