“Scenes from a Marriage” – Chris Luedtke

Emotional cinema does not seem to have progressed much in the last few years. Hollywood has tried to pass off “touching stories” with recent films like Marley & Me (another beloved pet film) and P.S. I Love You (another chick flick). Yet none of these films ever seem to take cues from the master directors of emotion such as Ingmar Bergman. Scenes from a Marriage is such a journey of emotional depth, it makes the most melancholy Nicholas Sparks book look like a Mel Brooks film.

Scenes from a Marriage follows the marriage of Johan (Erland Josephson) and Marianne (Liv Ullmann). Shortly into their union, the couple is asked to do an interview for a magazine about their life together thus far. Shortly after the interview is published, the two invite their best friends over for a celebration dinner. But instead of having an enjoyable meal, the newlyweds are thrust into a dispute involving their guests’ broken relationship. Johan and Marianne begin to muster the thought of deterioration amongst themselves following this night, fearing the worst within their own pairing. Scenes from a Marriage from here on out brings out both the best and worst about Johan and Marianne in their long-term relationship.

The film version of Scenes from a Marriage clocks in at two hours and forty-three minutes. There are a total of six characters in this whole film. Sound dull? Hardly. The flesh on these characters is so real, you’d swear that Bergman set up a camera in a random house and said, “Go to work.” Both Johan and Marianne have minds of their own, and both click and constantly clash with one another. Like any couple, they try to push it down and fix their problems, but also like any couple, they are stubborn and unwilling to admit they are wrong. There isn’t a struggle for power throughout so much as there is a struggle to understand. If you’ve ever, been in a long-term relationship, much of the couple clashing will probably hit close to home in one way or another. The struggle to make oneself understood is a battle within the dispute.

There isn’t so much a plot in Scenes from a Marriage as there is simply the small world that encompasses our characters. This world is mostly limited to the house, since this is the place where all of the personal stuff happens. Once in a while, we’ll get a car shot, or an intriguing thought may be introduced to one of the characters at work, but beyond this, the house is our confine. As much as we may want to get out when the tension is at its worst, we still want the doors to remain locked. It’s very entertaining when the next sentence becomes a guessing game. How will Marianne react? Will Johan go through with it? Why won’t they just make up? Such questions are riddled throughout and are most entertaining and moving to sit through.

I would have to say the best part of this film is the minimal use of outside characters. The film feels more concentrated and emotionally stirring when there’s not too much spice in the pot. As mentioned earlier, there are only six characters total that make an appearance. Bergman was wise to do this because our fixation remains on Johan and Marianne. The other characters that do pop up have much significance, but only to throw in some ideas and scare into the mix.

Scenes from a Marriage is an amazing piece of work from Ingmar Bergman. From his filmography I’ve seen so far, I’d rate this as his finest hour. It’s well-written, incredibly-acted, and a very worthy piece for the Criterion Collection. If you’re into tear-jerkers, this one, amongst many of Bergman’s works, will saturate a couple boxes of Kleenex. Even if you’re not into such films, I still highly recommend this one as a brilliant piece of humanistic art.

Rating: ★★★★

-Chris Luedtke

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