Scenes From A Marriage (Scener Ur Ett Äktenskap)

A well-acted two-hander from Ingmar Bergman – initially broadcast as a six-part TV series in Sweden – that shows the slow death of a marriage over the course of a decade. So yes, as you’d expect it’s a piece that’s packed with scenes of heightened emotion, which generally ring true, at least to my eyes and ears; there’s a transition from couched, guarded comments when other characters are around to more frank, deeply private discussions between the married couple later in the film, which goes some way to illustrating the different stages of the relationship as it crumbles. Bergman keeps such a close focus on proceedings within the couple’s home that when the action briefly shifts to another location it feels weirdly thrilling, and even the occasional exterior long shot seems like some kind of grand gift; these are the ever-so brief moments during which you, the viewer, can finally exhale.

While we’re on the subject of the cinematography, there’s some fascinating framing of faces in the film that’s typical of Bergman’s collaborations with DP Sven Nykvist, with only half of Erland Josephson’s visible at times, indicating his character Johan’s level of commitment to the marriage and to Liv Ullmann’s woefully mistreated Marianne. (Johan is one of cinema’s great, arrogant dickheads.) And as I sort of touched on earlier, the script is very good and so many lines are laden with subtext. That all said, there were times that I found the near-constant intimacy of the (third?-to-sixth) parts a little wearing, but I guess the appeal of the concatenated version for some is the way that this relentlessness mirrors the slog of the marriage and the general sense of ongoing drudgery that defines the couple’s relationship. For me, as Scenes From A Marriage slowly trundled on beyond the two hour mark I started to find it hard to sustain an interest; one person’s long-ish sacred cow is often someone else’s endurance test – and in all honesty watching it felt like an ordeal, an exercise in cinematic box ticking or watchlist management, as opposed to a pleasurable experience. There’s clearly much to admire, but somewhat conversely I was glad when it was over with and I doubt I’ll ever want to see it again. I feel like I have to give it a decent mark, in spite of my overwhelming desire to never watch it again. Weird. (****)