Liv Ullmann, Erland Josephson, Bibi Andersson, Jan MalmsjŲ, Gunnel Lindblom, Anita Wall, Barbro Hiort af Ornšs
Marianne (Liv Ullman) and Johan (Erland Josephson) always seemed like the perfect couple. But when Johan suddenly leaves Marianne for another woman, they are forced to confront the disintegration of their marriage. Shot in intense, intimate close-ups by master cinematographer Sven Nykvist, the film chronicles ten years of turmoil and love that bind the couple despite their divorce and subsequent marriages. Flawless acting and dialogue portray the brutal pain and uplifting peace that accompany a lifetime of loving. Originally conceived as a six-part miniseries for Swedish television, The Criterion Collection is proud to present not only the U.S. theatrical version, but also, for the first time on video in the U.S., Ingmar Bergman's original 5-hour television version of Scenes From a Marriage.
Runtime: 299 min.
Release Date: 3/16/2004
• 1986 Video Interview with Ingmar Bergman
• New Video Interview with Stars Liv Ullman and Erland Josephson
• US Theatrical Version
• Video Interview with Bergman Scholar Peter Cowie
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Scenes From A Marriage: Criterion Collection (1974)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 11, 2005)
2004 was a good year for fans of European miniseries later edited for US theatrical consumption. In June we got the full five-hour edition of Das Boot, and February of this year brought us the full five-hour version of Ingmar Bergmanís 1973 effort Scenes from a Marriage. By the end of 2004, Criterion also put out a long edition of Bergmanís Fanny and Alexander.
While I heard many years ago about the TV version of Das Boot, not until I received this DVD set did I know of the longer Scenes. The theatrical edition that appeared in 1974 chopped the original work from 299 minutes down to 169 minutes, a running time much easier digested in one sitting. In a nice touch, this Criterion DVD includes both cuts. For the purposes of this review, I watched only the longer version.
Split into six episodes, Scenes examines the union of 35-year-old Marianne (Liv Ullman) and 42-year-old Johan (Erland Josephson), the parents of young daughters Karin and Eva. Heís an associate professor at the Psychotechnology Institute, while she works as a lawyer who deals mostly with divorces. They lead what others see as a perfect life.
An old school acquaintance (Anita Wall) interviews the couple for a magazine article in a series about love. We learn a little about their relationship from these chats and also find out they just celebrated their 10th anniversary. The program slowly digs into the dynamics of their relationship and finds chinks in the armor of this seemingly idea couple. Eventually Johan cheats on Marianne and the two separate. We follow them as their relationship disintegrates but the two continue to maintain a connection.
Marriage holds together very well until its sixth and final chapter. Thatís because the story delivers a more and more narrow focus until that point. It begins with outside characters but gradually tightens things until we only see Marianne and Johan. No one else appears on camera during chapters three, four and five, as we stick solely with the main characters.
This makes the return of other characters a bit disconcerting when it happens in chapter six, but thatís not the episodeís main problem. Instead, it flops because it turns into too much of a soap opera. Marianne and Johan marry others but pursue an affair with each other. Maybe ďsoap operaĒ is a little extreme, but thatís how this material feels after the quiet intensity of the prior chapters.
The only other real problem I had came from the depiction of our two main characters. Itís never very clear why so many women go for Johan. We hear about his positives but donít see them, so he just comes across like a standard selfish cad without many redeeming characteristics. This then makes Marianne almost seem like a martyr since she has to put up with Johanís excesses.
Itíd have been nice to see a little more balance of positives and negatives. Instead, we care about Marianne much more than Johan. He comes and goes as he pleases, ignores his kids, and canít even stay awake when Marianne bares her soul to him. Itís tough to like him in any manner.
Despite my dislike of Johan, Marriage usually feels very real. It helps that it maintains an extremely low-key style. It consists largely of close-ups along with many long shots executed without cuts. These help make the film feel more intimate. Thereís very little cinematic stylization at work, so it comes across as real.
Itís not an attempt at documentary style filmmaking, though. Bergman doesnít try to put us in a place to think itís shot in that way. It does go with a fairly subtle examination of the subjects. Despite Johanís caddishness, the film doesnít beat us with concepts or characterizations. Instead, it mostly lets them evolve naturally and believably.
The filmís focus on the small things gives the bigger ones an impact. In relationships, most of the biggest fights donít stem from major issues. Instead, they come from small things that strike a chord. Marriage shows that, and it also avoids melodrama. The movie plays things straight and realistically.
It helps that Marriage features uniformly good acting. Since it focuses so intensely on Johan and Marianne, it becomes even more important than usual that we get good performances, and both actors deliver. In a way, my dislike of Johan shows what good work Josephson displays. Heís not afraid to make the character unpleasant and chilly, and that benefits the film.
Definitely not for the MTV set, Scenes from a Marriage can be slow-paced at times. Nonetheless, it presents a compelling look at relationships. Itís intense and uses a limited focus to make it work.
The DVD Grades: Picture C/ Audio D+/ Bonus B
Scenes from a Marriage appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on these single-sided, double-layered DVDs; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The programs have held up fairly well for their age but demonstrated occasional problems.
Sharpness was decent but not exceptional. Much of the time, Scenes looked acceptably well-defined, but it rarely came across as particularly crisp or concise. The image occasionally was a bit soft and indistinct. I saw no issues with jagged edges, but some moirť effects appeared, mainly due to Ullmannís striped short. In addition, light edge enhancement appeared throughout the programs. Largely due to so many subdued interior shots, grain presented the majority of the distractions, as it became quite heavy at times. Otherwise only minor defects popped up, like a few specks and a couple of small hairs.
To fit the programís design, colors were subdued. They usually looked pale and restrained, which was fine, since it matched the style of the shows; bright and emphatic tones would have made no sense. The colors seemed a little runny at times but they usually represented themselves adequately. Blacks were acceptably dense and firm, while low-light shots mostly came across as clear and visible. They could be somewhat thick at times, and the extra grain that popped up at those times became even more noticeable, but I still thought they were fine. Given the seriesí scope and origins, I felt the image of Scenes was acceptable.
Even more low-key - and more problematic - was the monaural soundtrack of Scenes From a Marriage. Unsurprisingly, dialogue dominated the series. Speech sounded sibilant and brittle much of the time. I suppose intelligibility wonít be important for most of us, since the majority of viewers will use the subtitles, but the edgy and shrill tones of the dialogue caused distractions. Effects also seemed harsh and rough. No score appeared during the shows; some music popped up during introductions but that was it. In those brief moments, the music came across as distorted as well. Overall, the audio of Scenes was rather trebly and weak.
As for extras, the most significant one is the 169-minute US theatrical version of the film. Actually, I donít know if this really should count as an ďextraĒ, but since itís outside of the main program - which is how I regard the long version of Scenes - I see it as a bonus feature. I didnít watch it since I preferred to view the full cut, but I think itís cool that it appears here for viewers who would like to see it.
Otherwise, we get one bonus feature per disc. On DVD One, we find a 1986 video interview with Ingmar Bergman. In this 15-minute and 10-second clip, the director discusses the projectís origins, facets of his characters and what he wanted to do with the story, his behavior on the set, and viewer reactions to the piece. We get a nicely introspective and rich examination of the program via the directorís insights.
Over on DVD Two, we get a new video interview with actors Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson, both of whom sit on their own for separate interviews in this 24-minute and 42-second program. We cut between the pair throughout the show, though we hear more from Ullmann. They talk about their ongoing relationship, how they came onto the project, shooting the film and character elements, working with Bergman, and the filmís success. We donít get as many good insights as in the Bergman piece, but we find a variety of nice notes anyway. I could live without the film clips, but we still receive a fair amount of useful material.
Finally, DVD Three presents a video interview with Bergman scholar Peter Cowie. During his 14-minute and 53-second piece, he compares the two versions of Scenes. First he chats about Bergmanís career prior to Scenes as well as its making and reception. Then Cowie goes over the choices made for the US version and contrasts the way it presents the characters and story. He also gets into specific edits. I like this feature, especially since it lets us know the changes without having to watch the theatrical cut; I was curious to find out about these but not interested enough to sit through the shorter version.
Like most Criterion releases, Scenes includes a booklet. This 12-page foldout features an essay by Philip Lopate. He offers a nice appraisal of the flick.
In the hands of most directors, a film like Scenes from a Marriage would be insufferably pretentious and overbaked. However, Ingmar Bergman takes the material and makes it real. The movie presents a believable examination of a relationship and remains compelling through its long running time. The DVD offers adequate picture with problematic audio and a decent set of extras highlighted by an alternate version of the flick. This isnít a DVD to show off your system, but the movieís worth your time.
Viewer Film Ratings: 4.75 Stars
| Number of Votes: 8