17 May 2005 | CSM126-1
The Tragedy of Emotional Illiteracy (Review is about the 5 Hour Version)
Johan and Marianne have been happily married for ten years. Following the rough choice to abort their child, the marriage begins to fall apart. Theirs is a marriage of convenience anyway, so it is no surprise that they have looked elsewhere for love and comfort. One day, Johan runs away with another woman, and the process of divorce begins. "Scenes from a Marriage" (Scener ur ett aktenskap) is an intense and personal look at the sanctity of marriage in a world where divorce is in vogue.
"Scenes" begins with Johan and Marianne being interviewed for a magazine article about their perfect marriage. Johan is confident in his happiness. He loves his wife, has fathered two children, and has a well-paying job. Marianne is sure of nothing, other than that she's happy. She tries to talk about her future, but the photographer cuts her off for a picture. She never gets to finish her thought. One wonders what she would have said if she'd gotten to same amount of time to speak as Johan did.
During the course of an epic five-hour ride, the two will switch places. Johan will become uncertain of what he wants, and Marianne will become liberated and truly happy. It's what happens in between that fascinates. "Scenes from a Marriage" focuses on the in between moments in life. Most of the time there are only two characters on screen at a time. Filmed in an intimate, documentary-like style, the film gives us the feeling that we're watching a home movie about the down time in the couple's life. This is when they real emotions come to the surface. Johan reveals his passion for Paula, the woman who has seduced him away from Marianne. Marianne, reserved in public, let's her anger, pain, and jealousy flow freely when they are alone together.
It is this that makes the film work. The film was written and directed by Swedish master Ingmar Bergman, a man who knows how to create arrestingly real drama. Bergman knows that the little moments in life are utterly more fascinating then the overblown public moments that most movies show. By allowing us into these personal moments, Bergman allows Johan and Marianne to become like old friends to the viewer, and that makes the story all the more impactful.
The performances by Liv Ullman and Erland Josephson as Marianne and Johan are nothing short of revelatory. Let's face it, most actors don't shoot for the stars in television productions. Ullman and Josephson treat "Scenes" like any one of their theatrical films. This approach is much appreciated. I only wish they could teach American TV actors a thing or two. Ullman and Josephson deliver more meaningful and powerful performances in the course of five hours than half of the American network line-ups could provide in 5 seasons.
Take, for example, the scene where Marianne discovers that she is the last person to know about Johan's infidelity. The camera gets in close on Ullman's face to reveal all the little details of her expression. Ullman's face is a mask of horror and shame. Her eyes are crying out in despair much louder than her voice can.
There is another fantastic scene in which Marianne who, in the ultimate irony, is a divorce lawyer listens to a client discuss her loveless marriage. The comparison to Marianne and Johan's marriage is undeniable. The look on Marianne's face as she sees her future self in her client is hard to describe, but undeniably affecting.
Johan has less emotional depth, as one of the main plot points is that Paula saps the life out of him as the relationship progresses. However, look at the earliest scenes of the film, where he is overflowing with happiness. The joy in his eyes and his voice are so real it's hard to believe that the whole thing was carefully scripted by Bergman rather than improvised by Josephson.
It is said that, following the initial airing of "Scenes from a Marriage" on Scandinavian TV, the divorce rate in Scandinavia grew immensely. More surprising is that Ingmar Bergman was, and still is, delighted by this fact. The film does provide somewhat of an argument for staying together (Johan and Marianne bounce back and forth on th divorce issue several times) and ultimately, as far as I understand, says that even the most strained relationships can be helped. I suppose it is all up to individual interpretations.
I think that "Scenes from a Marriage" is a film about communication. The lack of communication, and the inability to communicate at all, are the major contributing factors in the breakdown of Johan and Marianne's relationship. It isn't until the divorce papers come that the communication begins. A lack of communication with their own emotions prevents the two from seeing any way out other than divorce--they simply assume that it's too late and that all is said and done. It doesn't have to be that way, and "Scenes from a Marriage" will provide a wake up call to anyone who thinks it does.