Year: 1973 | Directed by: Ingmar Bergman | Roundup Rating: A+
Ingmar Bergman is one of my all-time favorite filmmakers (he ranked number three on my 2013 auteur list) and from his ouvre Cries & Whispers was my personal favorite. But that was before I've seen this one ― because everything changed from thereon. Originally a five part TV miniseries, I only managed to watch the theatrical version of Scenes from a Marriage, starring Bergman's longtime and favorite actor Erland Josephson (who can boast the most number of collaboration with the Swedish auteur) and Norwegian actress Liv Ullman.
Richard Linklater and Ethan Hawke used this movie as a yardstick in making Before Midnight. There are so many marriage films out there, I can even name a few of them, but this Bergman masterpiece probably started it all and raised the bar higher for everyone attempting to create a movie about couples struggling in their relationship.
Bergman's films have always been a careful meditation into the psyche of it's filmmaker's past. I've been thinking the length of autobiographical influenced to this movie, especially in the aspect of marriage. Bergman himself was never good in his own marital commitments, he was divorced four times out of his five marriages. He even admitted in an interview that he left his ex-wife while she was suffering from an illness. If there is one out of the many things I could take from this movie then that would be the fact that there are no marriages secure enough to last for a lifetime and that people are naturally complex beings.
Johan (Josephson) and Marianne (Ullman) are considered by their friends as an ideal couple. In the opening scene they were being profiled and interviewed by a journalist due to their successful marriage. They were both divorcee, but successful in their own careers ― as a doctor and a lawyer. They were friends first, got married for companionship and their love for each other grow from there. Having the perfect balance between their work and family, two children, a lovely house without any financial problems, they seem to have everything figured out. Smooth sailing it was, until Johan fell in love with a 23 year old woman named Paula (not seen in the movie). He confessed this to Marianne a day before he would leave for Paris with his young mistress. Everything was portrayed realistically. As their marriage disintegrates Johan appears to be cold and callous and lacking of any empathy for his wife, a complete definition of an arse hole. Marianne, on the other hand, restrains herself from any lamentation, while the audiences tears apart on her behalf.
It would take years before they finally put an ink to their divorce. Marianne struggles to move on while Johan enjoys the duality of his life ― living with a mistress and having a sexual affair with her soon to be ex-wife. (Which is every foolish man's dreams). His idea of being a man is letting a woman down, wanting them to be at his beck and call, and using them for his sole benefit until they have no identity of their own.
Time skip here. Marianne wants to fast track their divorce, she looks forward to a possibility of remarrying, of happiness. Johan, on the contrary, is exhausted with his relationship with Paula and has realized that he wants her back. However, she needs him no more, at least not as a husband to come home to night after night. They were divorced afterwards, they married other people, remain friends, but in-between they continuously have sexual liaison's together behind their partners backs. Marriage and relationships are a confusing puzzle, because after all the years of their stupidity it is obvious that these two still love each other and can't let go of what they have.
I was re-watching PT Anderson's film Magnolia two days ago and the character Earl Partridge comes to mind as I try to piece together Johan and the rest of the male populations reason for cheating on their wives. Earl Partridge and Johan did what they did out of their selfish "machismo" reasons. They crave for extra-marital sex because they think it would make them more of a man. It's an old and phased out state of mind, but men are men, and they are ruled by their balls not by their brains. However, in my opinion, Johan's action is more on, "hurting someone before they can hurt you," kind of thing. Men are simply obtuse creatures who tends to hate what is blasé, repetitive and old. Different sexual positions were invented because of their fondness for things that are exciting and new. And clearly, mistresses are good at that. But let's face it, when they get tired of eating out they would always come back home. Unfortunately, not all women turns a blind-eye on cheating or wait around for a man to come back to them, especially if they've been had or abused physically or verbally so many times.
Going back to Scenes from a Marriage, I think it is rare to see a movie that focuses on the couple alone, and does not involved a huge cast or a storyline that widens the gap of the story. After all, marriage is about the two people in it and not everyone else. A lot of underacting by the actors, which is a good thing, because real people do not exaggerate their emotions. The images, courtesy of the great Sven Nykvist, is a feast in the eye and a classic, it doesn't need those 3D effects to look real because it does have a life of its own.
What more can I say about Ingmar Bergman? He's superb as always, especially with the way he fleshes out his characters, may it be in the screenplay or through the performances of his actors. He writes what he knows best, mostly it's about his search for God, but this time around it has to do with his own demons, relationship wise. Although the story moves slowly he doesn't dawdle or beat around the bush. He takes his time to really develop the characters, until the audiences have a sense of understanding and affinity with them. There's a lot of close-up shots in his films, especially with this one, but I think it's his way of emphasizing their internal attitudes instead of his or her surroundings. By observation in the eye movement and the gestures there's meaning behind them and Bergman used those close-up angles for us to interpret a character beyond the realm of their dialogues and interaction with others. Out of all the films by Bergman this is "the-one" that really broke my heart. I cried everytime Liv Ullman was playing nice, passive and accepting of his husband's decision. You want to console her after she found out that her friends knew of his husband's cheating a long time ago.
I couldn't help myself from saying this, but I think this movie is the prelude to Nancy Meyer's It's Complicated, before they were divorced and started to have an affair. So basically, although I am not entirely sure, Bergman really influenced a lot of marriage films we have today, which is a good thing as long as they can keep it up or make good of it.