Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman, Scener ur ett aktenskap (Scenes from a Marriage) is the story of a marriage disintegrating between a lawyer and a professor throughout the course of a long period. The film explores Bergman’s fascination with adult life and a couple falling out of love as they’re played by two of Bergman regulars in Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson in their respective roles of Marianne and Johan. Also starring Bergman regular Bibi Andersson, Jan Malmsjo, Gunnel Lindblom, Anita Wall, and Barbo Hiort af Ornas. Scener ur ett aktenskap is a chilling yet provocative film from Ingmar Bergman.
After a magazine interview about marriage where Johan and Marianne answer superficial questions, the two hold a dinner party with their friends Peter (Jan Malmsjo) and Katarina (Bibi Andersson) that becomes a disaster due to Peter and Katarina’s constant bickering. On one particular Sunday as they’re expected to have dinner with their parents, Marianne decides not to do it leading to problems as the two end up doing different things in their work. Johan is a professor who is trying to do some studies while Marianne is a lawyer who deals with a woman wanting a divorce due to her loveless marriage. On another day in the country as Johan returns from work, he reveals some startling news to Marianne that would prove to be devastating.
Six months later, Johan and Marianne meet again to discuss about Johan’s role in the life of their daughters as he becomes more unsure of his new life as Marianne reveals her new life in their current separation. When the two later meet to discuss the divorce and sign the divorce papers, Johan opens up about his own failures as he and Marianne start to vent at each other for everything that has happened in their life.
The film is an exploration of a couple’s marriage as it disintegrates in the span of a period of time. In its shortened, 167-minute theatrical version, the film explores a marriage come undone where the first act involves Johan and Marianne deal with a world unraveling around them as they see their friends bicker while Marianne deals a woman who wants to get a divorce stating that she doesn’t love anyone. In the second act, Marianne and Johan’s blissful life shatters through secrets, insecurities, and all sorts of issues that would lead to their separation and eventual divorce. By the time the film reaches the third act, divorce is about to happen as the couple finally start to vent at one another while it would end with a final episode in which the two try to come to terms with their divorce and the new different lives they have separately.
Ingmar Bergman’s screenplay observes the world of marriage and the unraveling of this couple’s relationship through a series of moments as it starts off with this scene where Johan and Marianne are being interviewed for a magazine. It’s a scene that is meant to have Johan and Marianne be the representation of the perfect couple. Yet, it’s a scene where the two play and pretend to be nice though it’s a set up for everything else that is to come as they’re not perfect as they seem. Throughout the course of the film in an episodic-like structure, Johan and Marianne would unravel as well as try to hold on to the love they had for each other. Since there’s not much of a plot, it allows Bergman to let the characters explore their own flaws and inability to understand one another as this relationship is coming undone. Johan and Marianne may have their likeable traits but they also have traits that make them despicable as their love for each other is equaled by their disdain towards another.
Bergman’s direction is very understated in the way he presents the film such as the opening scene where even though Marianne and Johan are smiling and have to present their children for the interviewer. There’s little moments where it is obvious to the audience where they’re very uncomfortable knowing that this is not going to be a movie about the good aspects of marriage. In fact, marriage is tough for anyone as Bergman is always observing what is happening in the life of Johan and Marianne. Notably as they seem strung out and feeling tired by the routines of their life early in the first act as they each delve into their separate professions.
By the time the second act is around, the secondary characters are gone as the focus is one Johan and Marianne where Bergman allows the camera to be the invisible observer to see this marriage unravel. Notably as he creates startling compositions where he would have both individuals framed in some stylized fashion to complement who is shadowing who in this conversation. The use of the close-ups add a very claustrophobic element to the direction as the characters start to come undone as if all of their issues are closing in on them. Once the film progress and the unraveling of the marriage intensify, the quiet and reserved tone of the film that had moments of outbursts suddenly becomes more vicious as the characters finally just have it all out. While the ending is more somber and reflective, it is Bergman allowing these two people to get a chance to reveal how much they meant to each despite everything. Overall, Bergman creates a truly touching yet harrowing film about the world of marriage.
Cinematographer Sven Nykvist does an excellent job with the film‘s very low-key yet entrancing photography to complement the tone of the film where it starts off being colorful and vibrant to becoming more darker and ominous towards the end of the film. Editor Siv Lundgren does a superb job with the editing to emphasize on methodical yet straightforward cuts to capture the intensity of the conversations as it includes a montage of pictures of Marianne who is reading her own work to reflect her life. Production designer Bjorn Thulin does a nice job with the set pieces created such as the home that Johan and Marianne live in to the cabins they spend their weekends at to the more chilling office where they go over the divorce papers.
Costume designer Inger Pehrsson does a terrific job with the costumes to emphasize the personality of these characters such as the more stylish Marianne with her dresses and choices of pajamas to the more reserved look of Johan to complement his own personality. The sound work of Owe Svensson is very good for the sparse intimacy that occurs in the set pieces as the characters argue and interact as it involves small sounds of objects and such.
The casting for the film is brilliant as it features small roles from Anita Wall as the magazine interviewer, Gunnel Lindblom as Johan’s colleague, Barbro Hiort af Ornas as the woman Marianne interrogates for a divorce case, Jan Malmsjo as the very brash Peter, and Bibi Andersson as the cynical Katarina. The film’s best performances definitely go to Erland Josephson and Liv Ullmann in their respective roles of Johan and Marianne. With Josephson providing a more calm performance as a man who loves his wife as he later becomes a man filled with shame as Josephson starts to become intense and cruel over the guilt he’s feeling. Ullmann displays a liveliness to her character early in the film as well as displaying the anguish over everything as she becomes terrifying in the anger she displays. Josephson and Ullmann’s chemistry is truly mesmerizing to watch in the way they caress each other and how they yell and fight each other as they gives career-defining performances.
Scener ur ett aktenskap is a haunting yet powerful drama from Ingmar Bergman featuring outstanding work from Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson. The film, in its shortened 167-minute theatrical version, is quite remarkable in the way dissolving marriages are observed without going into heavy melodrama or moments of over-wrought sentimentality. It is among one of Bergman’s essential films in the way he observes human behavior as well as the world of love and all of its complications. In the end, Scener ur ett aktenskap is a remarkable film from Ingmar Bergman.
Ingmar Bergman Films: (Crisis) - (It Rains on Our Love) - (A Ship to India) - (Music in Darkness) - (Port of Call) - (Prison) - (Thirst (1949 film)) - (To Joy) - (This Can’t Be Happen Here) - (Summer Interlude) - Secrets of Women - Summer with Monika - Sawdust and Tinsel - A Lesson in Love - Dreams (1955 film) - Smiles of a Summer Night - The Seventh Seal - (Mr. Sleeman is Coming) - Wild Strawberries - (The Venetian) - (Brink of Life) - (Rabies) - The Magician - The Virgin Spring - The Devil’s Eye - Through a Glass Darkly - Winter Light - The Silence - All These Women - Persona - (Stimulantia-Daniel) - Hour of the Wolf - (Shame (1968)) - (The Rite) - The Passion of Anna - (The Touch) - Cries & Whispers - (The Magic Flute) - (Face to Face) - (The Serpent’s Egg) - Autumn Sonata - From the Life of the Marionettes - Fanny & Alexander - (After the Rehearsal) - (Karin‘s Face) - (The Blessed Ones) - (In the Presence of a Clown) - (The Image Makers) - Saraband
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