Directed by: Ingmar Bergman
Written by: Ingmar Bergman
Starring: Liv Ullmann & Erland Josephson
Marriage can be many things, but challenges will always arise because we’re all human. Everyone has those faults, but the willingness to grow with one’s spouse dictates the success of the partnership forged on their wedding day. Time becomes a huge factor, which Scenes from a Marriage displays as a couple goes through ebbs and flows of being together.
Initially a six-part series in Sweden and then put together for a feature film, it follows Marianne (Liv Ullmann) and Johan (Erland Josephson). They are a married couple, who are being interviewed after years of being together and with kids. As each segment progresses, we see the deterioration of their relationship and how they cannot stay away from each other for too long.
Ingmar Bergman always exhibits efficiency in his storytelling as most of his films land near the 90-minute mark and still balance all of the poignant thematic elements he injects and the character progressions. Before realizing Scenes from a Marriage came from a six-part TV series, I was surprised to see something made by him almost reaching three hours, but the way the narrative cuts together the story, you can see how it can be broken down into a series and a film. We see the different stages of the relationship between Marianne and Johan, as they struggle with the pain of trying to balance their relationship and all of the outside mitigating factors.
While the title references marriage, much of the story revolves around their separation and the little minute details surrounding it. Johan’s selfishness forces Marianne to deal with the impact their separation would have on everything they have built together. When you get married, different routines and relationships get formed that would only be awkward if a separation ever occurred. Conversations surrounding the children and how they will hear the news, or the family members, who have only seen the couple as being happy all of these years. One flicker of selfishness can change an entire situation in a split second, which happens to Marianne. The small cracks forming in different facets of their marriage splits open in such a harmful manner.
As much as the talk of outside factors come into play in their discussions, the camera remains solely on them. It almost felt like a play, as it completely focuses on them and each episode lands on them in different areas and times of their relationship. They speak of their children and parents and the impact felt there, but as the audience, we never actually see them. Bergman allows us free access into the privacy of these two characters. The sort of discussions you never hear a couple have in the open, but we witness the insecurity and vulnerability married couples hide from the world, as they concoct other reasons for their troubles. It almost feels wrong and voyeuristic at times, even if the camera places the audience right in the middle of the action. We should not be listening to their issues of such personal material like their lack of intimacy, but it becomes vital to truly understanding these characters and what motivates them.
Even with the pain existing from selfishness, the relationship between Marianne and Johan can undoubtedly be defined as complex. It goes from scalding hot to Arctic cold at different points in their life, because time allows for people to breathe, and the moments of their connection release the sparks, which initially brought them together but then we learn once again what made them separate from each other. Their relationship remains their own throughout the story and even if their behavior seems to be odd when they’re together, we have no room to judge.
Bergman focuses on the two actors of the feature and they both delivered beautifully poignant and sensitive performances to bring these two characters to life. Particularly, Liv Ullmann delivered some stellar work here. The relationship she had with Bergman inspired certain segments of the feature, which must have made the filming process such a personal experience for them both. She has undoubtedly been one of his muses, as she stars in several of Bergman’s greatest works, including my personal favorite, Persona. With this film being a two-hander, she completely dominates, as she carries the emotional moments of having to deal with everything as Marianne. The long takes, where she needs to bear out all of her emotional turmoil demonstrate her excellence as an actor. She takes those monologues, perfectly crafted by Bergman, and delivers them in a way only she could in such spectacular fashion. With her work in other Bergman masterworks, this may be the best show of her incredible talent.
Any film about marriage will definitely leave a mark on me, because of my personal connection with being married. I love seeing filmmakers speak on the experience of it whether it be harshly cynical or incredibly naive. Ultimately, marriage may have overlapping themes, but it will always be something incredibly personal between two people as they navigate a world as one unit in two bodies. There will be bumps on the road and it may reveal the truth that perhaps you may not be meant to be. Marriage strips someone down to their most vulnerable as spouses share their dreams, aspirations, fears, and anxieties. It provides the highest amount of love while also setting up for excruciating pain because you’ve allowed that person to see a side of you no one has ever seen. It makes the pain of them breaking your heart all the more damaging on multiple levels.
Scenes From a Marriage allows one to peer into a troubled relationship to see all of those insecurities out front. At times it gets ugly and harsh, but the love existing between Marianne and Johan will never cease to exist through all of their troubles. Ingmar Bergman delivers yet another masterful piece of art, which can be consumed as a film or a series and the flow will still work. The collaborative efforts of Ullmann and Bergman have never been better.