Scenes from a Marriage

"Essential"

Scenes from a Marriage Review


Ingmar Bergman's Scenes from a Marriage began as a six-part Swedish television program that aired throughout much of Scandinavia in 1973. The series was created at one of those times when Bergman was in something of a creative slump, but in a career of comebacks, Scenes from a Marriage constituted another. The series was such a hit, reports Bergman scholar Peter Cowie, that the one-hour episodes emptied the streets of cities such as Copenhagen during its weekly time slots. American distributors were soon clamoring for a theatrical version for release here, and Bergman responded in 1974 with a trimmed-down, 169-minute edit that went on to win the National Society of Film Critics Award for best picture of its year. In 1977, PBS aired the entire series unedited, and Scenes from a Marriage took its rightful place among Bergman's established masterpieces.

And then it kind of vanished. That's not to say that you couldn't, with some effort, get your hands on a copy of the American release. But Bergman's original vision - the five-hour Scenes - joined the company of fabled films, such as von Stroheim's Greed, that lived a high life in film criticism while going largely unseen by film enthusiasts. Criterion, with its new, three-disc DVD edition of the original TV series, plus the American theatrical version, restores a great film to the shelves.

In its original form, Scenes from a Marriage is one of the great investigations of the title institution to occur in any art form. The film charts the relationship of Johan (Erlan Josephson) and Marianne (Liv Ullman) through ten tempestuous years, beginning with a seemingly happily married couple and ending with a nostalgic reunion after divorce has separated them. Shot in 16mm and tightly photographed by the legendary Sven Nykvist, the film is immediate and unflinching in its probity, the scenes ranging from the enormously cruel (such as that in which Johan confesses to the affair the ends the marriage) to the redemptive (those showing Marianne finding her feet in life after Johan). As Johan, Josephson manages a remarkable transition from arrogant chauvinism to touching vulnerability (a more remarkable feat when the length of the scenes and close proximity of the camera are brought into consideration). As Marianne, Ullman is wonderful to the extent that it may be foolhardy to try to do her work justice in words.

In the full-length Scenes from a Marriage, Bergman backs down from nothing; he takes scenes as far as they need to go and the depths he searches in his characters is uncompromising. The American release, while necessarily less thorough (and despite a mild change in emphasis), stands on its own as a major work, and may prove less daunting to some viewers. Both benefit enormously from the extras Criterion has provided, including the above-referenced Cowie interview and interviews with the director and stars.

Scenes from a Marriage is a key film both in the career of Ingmar Bergman and in the cinema of the '70s. It's a pleasure to welcome it back in this excellent edition.

Aka Scener ur ett äktenskap.



Scenes from a Marriage

Facts and Figures

Run time: 283 mins

In Theaters: Sunday 15th September 1974

Budget: 150

Distributed by: Criterion Collection

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Fresh: 15 Rotten: 1

IMDB: 8.5 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Marianne, as Johan, as Katarina, Jan Malmsjö as Peter, as Eva

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