A Look at Marriage Without the Romance
By a customer
, 08 Oct 2004
One wonders why a director who has been married at least five times would even think of doing a film about marriage. Yet if you watch it you will know why. The film takes a very scrutinizing yet objectionable look at love, marriage, sex, and even happiness. It questions what it all means and whether the ideal union between two human beings is even obtainable. It's honest and realistic. It looks more a two flawed individuals than as a couple, which makes it more interesting. It shows the never ending complexities that the institution of marriage creates. How the 'meeting of the minds' is task in itself. It also examines the delicate balance we all have of pursuing selfish needs and still wanting to be loved.
This is a very deep psychological study with endlessly stimulating dialogue. The two stars dive into their roles with a emotional abandon. The atmosphere and approach is quite civilized yet their is moment of completely unexpected violence, which is good. It shows that the director, in an effort to pull out the reality, isn't afraid to dig to even the darkness part of the human psyche.
However some of this does become overly protracted. The approach is too scholarly, which gives it a very wooden feel. The viewer never gets emotionally drawn in and there is never any dramatic impact. It takes a full hour before this thing even starts to gain any type of momentum. It also would have been more complete to see these people when they first met instead of starting when things are already beginning to go bad.
Still this is a worthwhile exercise. Many married viewers may find a lot of truth to this especially if they stick with it. The characters go through a full range of emotions in each and every scene. Bergman shows an amazing intimacy. You really feel like you are alone with these people and no one else is around. The lighting is terrific and cinematographer Nykvist captures Ullmans expressive face like no one else.
One of Director Ingmar Bergman's great talents was his deep understanding of women and his love for them. In Liv Ullmann he found a woman who could express that passion so that it could be felt by others. In the cinema that I most admire there is a collaboration of love and adoration between the director and the star that is expressed in the performance. We see this in the work of Krzysztof Kieslowski and to a lesser extent in the work of Roman Polanski and Roger Vadim. And I guess I might mention Beno?t Jacquot and Andre Techine who first directed, respectively, Judith Godr?che and Juliette Binoche. But with Bergman there is a wider expression of this love and admiration to include the experience of pathos and tragedy. To understand what a woman is in the fullest extent of her being is what Bergman strives for, not just the revelation of a pretty girl. In Bergman we find the kind of all encompassing psychology characteristic of Shakespeare or Ibsen, in which the characters are fully fleshed and expressive of a wide range of human experience. This begins slowly as a stage play and continues as something seen on television and then suddenly springs like a trap and we are immersed in a compelling drama about people who are interesting and alive, people like ourselves who have the longings and the frustrations that we live but seldom express. As Marianne and Johan watch their friends expose the sordid details of their failed marriage, they are understanding and quietly smug that they are different, especially it is Marianne who is proper and conventional, always alert to the necessities of propriety, who feels this way, and is so happy that their marriage, while not perfect, will last. And so it appears.
And then we have the scene in which Johan tells her that he is in love with a younger woman. It is nothing short of magnificent, one of the most memorable in all of cinema, and done with such subtly and power, infused with a deep underpinning of a wild and desperate, yet cunning expression of love from Liv Ullmann that would win over the devil himself. This is a woman at thirty-five, when everything that means anything to her is suddenly threatened, and this is how she responds, with genius.
Or, some might say, with madness. Johan's dull indifference is absurdist, and Marianne's incredible tolerance and 'understanding' of his behavior is stunning. Yet when it happens to us, sometimes we are just a bit ahead of ourselves and we realize what has really happened, and like Marianne we are generous and sad instead of insanely jealous. And Johan's insufferable arrogance and 'worldly' understanding of himself makes us want to scream. And then it turns and he says, 'I'm beaten,' and there is just a trace of a triumphant smile on her face. At forty-five, he is a beaten man. 'You win,' is what he is saying. And now he becomes a bit pathetic. His behavior, when it is she who has the upper hand, is crude and ugly. Of course hers was cunning and desperate when he had the upper hand. And then it turns again and then again, and we have twenty years of a marriage.
One thing I must say, this is a little too intense for TV! (The entire production, six hours worth, was originally made for Swedish TV.)
I was pleased to see the photos of Liv Ullmann as a child and then as a little girl and then as a teen and then as a young woman worked into the script. She is so beautiful and wholesome in a distinct way, like no other actress, and yet I knew her in the ninth grade in the person of a girl with the same red hair and the same white, reddish, freckled skin. The range that Liv Ullmann displays in this film is remarkable, but she is not alone. Co-star Erland Josephson is also outstanding. And they had better be since they command the screen for most of the 170 minutes this version runs. What Bergman does that keeps us glued to the tube is he tells the truth. It's a Bergman truth, but it is a truth so beyond the contrivances and superficialities of most movies that we are fascinated.
In general the work of Mr. Bergman for me registers a negligible vibration. His is a world that seems to consist mostly of darkness and shadows, of distraught emotions and stifled anguish.
Having viewed some twenty of his films over the years, it has usually been a trying experience. His tendency toward joylessness has been vexing and unrewarding. My attendance at his works has admittedly been more dutiful than motivated.
While I acknowledge his undeniable technique and genius of his craft, I really can't say I'm drawn to it. 'Scenes from a Marriage' is certainly one of Mr. Bergman's best works, yet even here it's so painfully and agonizingly wrought that it takes great personal effort for me to become engaged, and with little reward.
I'm certainly not trying to down his work, only admit that his is a world I'd rather choose not to inhabit. At the same time I acknowledge that Mr. Bergman has established himself as one of the world's great film makers, and I take my hat off to him in that regard, while leaving his admirers and devotees to continue to support and appreciate his cinematic and theatrical creations.
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