Sunday, August 12, 2007


Continuing our homage to the late great Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman, we move forward to 1973 and his TV drama, SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE. The movie was originally filmed for TV in 16mm by the incomparable Sven Nykvist, and so feels flatter and less visually interesting than, say, THE SEVENTH SEAL. The more realistic and less attention-grabbing visual style also makes the film feel more claustrophobic somehow. It's as though we are trapped in these very uninteresting domestic spaces with these two people for two and a half hours at minimum, or four hours if you see the original TV version.

The two people in question are a husband and wife played by Erland Josephson and Liv Ullmann. As the film opens, they are being interviewed for a magazine article - the models of married bliss. It seems to be a marriage of convenience. They were both middle-class, moved in the same social circle and were recovering from heart-break. However, even at the outset, she seems less able to articulate her feeling than he is. The second scene, in what seems a rather formal and theatrical drama, is a dinner party. This rather pompous couple stand back as superior voyeurs when their dinner party guests have a vicious domestic argument.

After this scene, we'll see the couple pretty much alone, talking to each other and/or sleeping with each other. Their daughters and their other lovers are referred to but never seen. What this means is that our attention is fixed on every argument and every reconciliation - every life choice and reconsideration. Their hopes, neuroticisms and humiliations become our world.

This "chamber drama" is absolutely engrossing. The dialogue seems truthful and both leads give exceptionally brave performances. Bergman's frank discussion of sex, friendship and marriage has rarely been equalled in cinema. Most of all, I think Bergman must be thanked for exposing the drama of apparently boring middle-class life. Where cinema tends to the extremes of high and low life, Bergman stays fixed on that strata of society that was born to privelege. He homes in on the failure to live up to that promise. It's a chilling - truly horrifying portrait - not least because this particular relationship seems to be in an eternal loop.

SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE was originally shown on Swedish TV in 1973 before going on theatrical release in a shortened version. Various DVD versions exist.

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