By: Henry J. Fromage (Four Beers) –
My feelings for Ingmar Bergman range from sublime accomplishment (The Virgin Spring, The Seventh Seal) to Godardian artsy masturbation (Persona), and I’ve admittedly not revisited his filmography for some time. This week, however, I drew Scenes from a Marriage, an acclaimed miniseries in Sweden that was recut into a 167 minute film that ended up with a few awards of its own.
Both document the dissolution of a marriage between Johan (Erland Josephson) and Marianne (Liv Ullman) and their relationship in its aftermath, in a series of chapters spanning a number of years.
This film is so incisive and depressing that it caused controversy for supposedly doubling Scandinavian divorce rates (they did double). There’s an idea. What if it’s Ingmar Bergman’s fault the suicide rates in Scandinavia are so high?
This one almost did it to me
Seriously, though, the film is a bitingly realistic profile of a relationship, an achievement due in equal parts to a great script, tight, focused direction by Bergman (his close-ups in particular are devastating), and excellent performances by Josephson and especially Ullman.
The structure of the film is ideal for showing how cracks in a marriage became crevasses, and with all the drama and heartbreak, Bergman still allows moments of poetry and beauty to shine through.
Like many great writer/directors, all of the characters end up sounding like the same person.
Ex: an old neurotic Jewish man
Everyone here is detached and clinical, philosophical, and fatalistic, much like, umm… Ingmar Bergman himself. It makes for interesting material to chew on, but clashes with the realism the rest of the production is going for.
A more apt title for this film is Scenes from a Marriage of Convenience. I’m not sure why this could cause any divorces at all, as Johan and Marianne’s marriage was self-admittedly passionless from the beginning, and they never refer to it in any way as a binding commitment. The only people to pity in this arrangement are their children, who are going to have psychiatry bills for daaays.
You might be tempted to pity Marianne, because as imperfect as she is, Johan is a flaming pile of shit whose indecisive fuckery is directly responsible for their marriage’s dissolution. The film is much more compelling from her perspective, and for a time starts to take a feminist bent as she frees herself from her patriarchal shackles and even, gasp!, starts to enjoy sex, and yet in the end she crawls back, then he rejects her then she crawls back then he hits her then she crawls back… yeah, toss that feminist message right out. The fact that there’s a sequel, Saraband, with the characters together in their old age is frankly insulting.
Wife beaters rejoice! It was good for her.
Scenes from a Marriage is a well-acted, well-made, but slightly infuriating and utterly depressing relationship tale.
Take a Drink: hey look- a Volvo!
Take a Drink: every time Johan says something shallow or self-serving
Take a Drink: every time Marianne says something depressing
Take a Drink: for relationship warning signs
Do a Shot: whenever we actually see the children
Do a Shot: when lil’ Liv ports around a dead squirrel