Thursday, September 19, 2013


The 5 Obstructions blogathon

OBSTRUCTION 4: Write a review that consists of at least 1,250 words

I must admit that this challenge turned out to be slightly more daunting than I anticipated. I do tend to write a lot, often using more words then some might deem necessary. I've gotten in trouble for it occasionally actually, even recently, but sometimes it can be difficult to write 1,250 words about a film, especially when you're doing it on purpose. I prefer my writing to usually be more natural and flow through me and if that's a couple thousand or a couple dozen words, I usually let it stand until I take a metaphorical red editing pen to it. That said, sometimes I don't need 1,250 words to talk about a film. Some films aren't worth the five or six hundred words I usually end up writing about them. So, this review is gonna double as not only my "The 5 Obstructions" blogathon entry, but also as my latest "CANON OF FILM" entry, where I devote an entire blogpost to discuss/analyze a great or essential film. If I'm gonna write 1,250 words on a movie, it better be about a movie that's worth it. Well, that said, I am also cheating a bit by discussing equally the feature-length film, and the original miniseries version of Ingmar Bergman's "Scenes From a Marriage". I think in this rare instance, the two versions are so closely related and discussed together and equally with each other in general, that I think I'm on okay ground using this instance, as both are essential viewing and it's hard to discuss one version without the other anyway.

So, here we go, Ingmar Bergman's "Scenes From a Marriage"!


Director/Screenplay: Ingmar Bergman

For some reason it's been typical in Europe, Sweden in particular, for a movie or a movie series to either originate or even become a television miniseries that originally airs there. They usually come to us in film versions first, and then we get the miniseries shortly thereafter, if we get them at all. I'm currently doing that with the "Dragon Tattoo Trilogy" films, which were three separate movies here, all of which I enjoyed of course, and I also decided to tackle the miniseries of Ingmar Bergman's "Scenes From a Marriage", which actually originated as a miniseries for Swedish television, after he couldn't get funding anymore to make movies, and after it's success as a 6-part miniseries, it was edited down to a feature-length film, for easy distribution overseas. The miniseries itself aired on PBS a few years later after the success of the film. I had seen "Scenes from a Marriage" the film before, and oddly, after visiting it again, after watching the miniseries, I think I realize now the the miniseries is probably the stronger version, but it's essential to see both. The movie begins with an interview, seemingly about nothing more than Johan and Marianne's (Erland Josephson and Liv Ullman) perfect marriage. They sit uncomfortably on a couch as they're being interviewed shortly after they get the family photo with the two kids. Johan's as a doctor, she's a divorce lawyer, and the interview is mostly him talking and bragging. It takes forever for Marianne to even get a word in edgewise, and when she does, she isn't sure what to say other, and gets cut off for another photo right when she starts to feel comfortable. I have a relative that had one of those couples piece in the National Enquirer once; needless to say they ended up divorced, which we suspect will happen to Marianne and Johan. The first part, entitled "Innocense and Panic", is the only part of the film where we see them cohorting with other, another couple, the dueling, drinking Katarina and Peter (Bibi Andersson and Jan Malmsjo), and with those two, there openness and honestly leads to the night imploding. In the miniseries version, we learn of Marianne's pregnancy and subsequent abortion, but that's taken out of the theatrical version, and the second part show entitled "The Art of Sweeping Things Under the Rug", shows their marraige and sex life deteriorating. The most famous segment is Part 3, entitled "Paula", when Johan announces he's leaving her for a 23-year old he's fallen in love with, and has been having an affair. Ullman's performance of built up anger and denial until now, finally implodes, but not with Johan, later, when she's on the phone with her friends, and they reveal just how much and how long they've known. Later she'll reflect how she's scared that she's never loved anyone, a reflection she has years later after having a nightmare.

"Scenes from a Marriage" is sparse, really sparse. Most of the movie is two people talking, and it's often considered a chamber play in tone, although I think the movie's even more intimate and personal than that. It's more fly-on-the-wall than occasional look in, and the camera holds tight on close-ups as Bergman's camera always does. Watching the miniseries, I wondered if this was the inspiration behind Richard Linklater's "Before Trilogy"? Turns out, it was very influential for "Before Midnight, but it's essentially, the sam process is used for all those films; we look in on two people at certain points in their lives and at a certain moment in their existance. Sometimes we're looking in on more obvious dramatic moments while othertimes, we fall asleep, like Johan does, as Marianne read him her writings he was working on.

The intimacy of the films allows, is striking. We never feel as though we know them, personally, we're more like uncomfortably close voyeurs, yet on the same token, we recognize so much of us of ourselves in the characters. Purportedly, the divorce rate supposedly increased across Scandinavia after airings of the miniseries. The journey of the characters is actually what really strikes us, particularly Marianne, who goes from bespected doormat in the beginning to seeming more vocal and emotionally independent, when we see her in Part 5, "Illiteracy", when Johan's come to her work to sign divorce papers, and they have sex, and then figh, not just in words, physically fightingt, and we see that there desire towards each other is both filled with love and hate.

That's the true trick involved in "Scenes from a Marriage", the marriage, may go through, troubles, boredom, complacentcy, infidelity, separation, divorce, and even, something just short of reconciliation by the end, they all are just what the title says, "Scenes of a Marriage", and like many people know, most marriages don't just end in divorce. There's a hard conflict of emotions involved, that lead to two people who love each other, unable to be with each other anymore. Other movies have shown a deteriorating marriage and the conflicting emotion of the couple evolve or devolve, but "Scenes..." was the first one. It marked a turning point for Bergman, who had started scaling away from his more enigmatic and symbolic films into more simple slice of life pictures that showed the realities of the world.

Maybe that's why I've always had a bit of a hard time grasping at "Scenes from a Marriage", myself. being young, and only seeing these things from a distance personally, it always amazes me how little aware people are that there own relationship may in trouble or endangered, or oftentimes, just plain wrong for one or both of them. The last part is my favorite, entitled "In the Middle of the Night in a Dark House, Somewhere in the World". Marianne and Johan are now married to other people who we've never seen, but both are out of town and we learn that they've been having an affair with each other for about a year, and now they're off to a cabin for the weekend. Their kids are practically grown up, and they've reflected on the difficult times, and their mistakes of youth, before sleeping together, still in love with each other, but realizing that they weren't meant to be married. Marianne is awoken by a nightmare that frightens her at the end, and Johan comforts her. It's probably the most Berganesque of the scenes, or at least early bergmanesque scene in the movie, this one time when a night's sleep is interrupted by those forces on the outside, out of there control.

Oddly, I don't respond as well directly to "Scenes From a Marriage" as a whole. It helps to see the movie first, but I think overall the miniseries is the ultimate version of this product, yet one should watch both at least once. I actually am more partial to Bergman's sequel, "Saraband", which I've only see the film version of (That also originated as a miniseries) where Marianne and Johan suddenly decides to reconnect with each other after thirty years. That film has more characters and arched conflicts involving them,  as we see the youth deal with the same troubles that the adults dealt with before, only different. I think Bergman made that sequel, which ended up becoming his final film, as a way to reveal more of what "Scenes..." is really about, the everyday struggles of life. The older you get, the more you learn about life, so naturally, you make another film, to tell us more about what he's learned. Bergman was 89 when he passed away, that's a lot of life to go through, perhaps a single marriage isn't enough to explain all of it.


Nostra said...

I never seen this movie (only seen a couple of Bergman movies), but I'm interested in checking it out. Thanks for your entry!

David Baruffi said...

Thanks, glad you like it. The entire feature film is in the youtube clip above, although I don't know for how long, so you can view that anyway. The miniseries, I'm not sure where to get, but yeah, you should definitely see it. It's not my favorite Bergman, but it's definitely an indisputable essential of his.

Anonymous said...

This is one of my FAVORITE films, but I can totally see why you have slight reservations. I'm glad that you liked this though, and I'm glad you chose this for your entry here (although it was my first choice and so I had to scrap it and start over when you posted this!)

Anonymous said...

oh, and I hope you don't mind, but I linked your post in mine ;-)

David Baruffi said...

Thanks for your link, and no, I don't mind: I appreciate it greatly in fact. I thought I was on safe ground tackling it, thinking no one else would have the same idea. (Shrugs) Oh well, sorry for taking "Scenes...". I liked your piece too btw, on "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice". That one's on my Netflix, and I'll get to it soon; I need to rewatch it to get a firm opinion on it, myself, but I've heard good things. Anyway, thanks for the link, feel free to link to any/all of my other posts. :)