Scenes from a Marriage

Scenes from a Marriage ★★★★★

Ingmar Bergman's epic mini-series, Scenes from a Marriage, is a brilliant, intimate observational study of a couple's marriage. At the start of the film, Marianne (Liv Ullmann) and Johan (Erland Josephson) have been agreeably (if not always happily) married for ten years. Bergman's film meets a couple that seems to have it all together, peels back the façade, and shows us the tension right under the surface.

Ullmann and Josephson provide powerhouse performances, and their chemistry here is probably the best I've seen for a married couple in film. While watching Ullmann and Josephson at work here, I was reminded of Ullmann's performance alongside Ingrid Bergman in Autumn Sonata, another Bergman film where two acting legends go toe-to-toe with raw, emotional power. For me, though, this film transcends even the brilliance of Autumn Sonata; where Ullmann and Bergman are only given roughly 90 minutes of room, the mini-series puts a laser focus on Ullmann and Josephson for nearly five hours. While Liv Ullmann is the star of the show (honestly, her facial expressiveness may be the best all time), I was equally impressed by Josephson here, in a role that might actually have been tougher to play, if only because his character is far less likable.

Although daunting, the length of the mini-series is one of the film's greatest strengths. I am so grateful that I elected to watch the full series, as it gives the performers room to breathe. I cannot imagine how much emotional power must be lost by cutting two hours of content for the theatrical release. For example, the nearly 40-minute long discussion in which Johan reveals his intentions to Marianne during episode 3 ("Paula") was riveting, absorbing cinema that couldn't afford to lose a minute.

Sven Nykvist's cinematography is phenomenal, as usual, and Bergman's trusted director of photography gives the film a raw visual style, often framing the actors uncomfortably close, reflecting the intrusion on their personal lives. The rawness and closeness of the cinematography adds a voyeuristic realism to the whole experience. The entire production feels more real than any reality television show about relationships ever could; real relationships are personal, confusing, conflicted, and sometimes ugly.

For its honesty, its intimacy, and its perfect performances, Scenes from a Marriage is a masterpiece. I am still processing its impact, and look forward to revisiting the theatrical release in the future. As of right now, this may finally be the film to supplant The Seventh Seal as my favorite Bergman film.

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