Cinema Club: Scenes from a Marriage (1974)

Posted on July 10, 2013

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Scenes from a Marriage (Ingmar Bergman, 1974)

This is regarded as something of a classic I suppose. Originally a six part television series, Bergman stripped it down to provide a film version that spanned a mere 162 minutes. It follows the trials and tribulations of Johan and Marianne, a fairly well off married couple. Their marriage slowly disintegrates, to the point where Johan ends up running off with his much younger lover. Then we have a series of meetings between the two as they try to come to terms with everything, ending with them in each others arms in the cottage of a friend. It is a love film through and through, all be it a love film that depicts both the good and the bad of that aforementioned emotion. It does it in an extremely human way as well, unlike the ‘wah wah’ shining perfection of Hollywood Romance. Roger Ebert called it one of the ‘truest, most luminous love stories ever made’. Una Ciric, a far more esteemed movie critic, referred to it as the ‘most real love story I have ever seen’. My opinion? An incredibly frustrating film.

I know this is a good film. I know it. By the end of its marathon-esque length however, the whole thing just felt so sterile, so irrational and so completely unnatural that I just wanted it to end. As they negotiate their divorce Johan and Marianne engage in a series of on/off type situations, yet I struggle to think of a couple onscreen who had as little chemistry as them. Throughout, their kissing just seems so horrifically awkward. This could very well be the point, as the film is mostly about them breaking up and bringing all of their hatred for each other to the fore, but the total lack of natural chemistry made the tender moments just a little uncomfortable watch. Johan in particular is incredibly frustrating, to the point that I wanted everything to go horrifically wrong for him by the end.

The length of the film was tough as well. Now, I’ll hypocritically complain about shorter movies too, and shout about the need for time in order for stories to breathe properly. At times this just felt ploddy though. It is obviously dialogue heavy, but by the second half it feels sterile. The first half or so, in particular the first 20 minutes, work this like a charm, coming across almost like a film adaptation of some classic Russian literature. The meltdown by Peter and Katarina early on in particular, is completely engrossing cinema despite the sheer horror of it. By the time Johan and Marianne are having similar fights however, the whole thing feels forced and tired.

But, maybe this is why it is considered one of the most real love stories ever told. Life is forced, life is tired, life is frequently sterile and life is frequently irrational. You can replace the term ‘life’ with ‘love’, and it makes even more sense. Love is frequently forced, in particular in relationships such as Johan and Marianne where so much avoidance of the truth pervades. Love because you think you should love a particular person. Love is sterile on so many occasions, because expecting to feel utter euphoria for an individual on a second by second basis is, as the next point states, irrational. But love is irrational, and thats what makes it so much better and so much worse than the other emotions we feel on a daily basis. Towards the end of the film the love between Johan and Marianne seems almost too irrational, especially after the horrendous breakdown in the office but there we have it, they still meet up with forced smiles and that most dangerous beast when dealing in long love, nostalgia.

This really is one of the truest love stories ever told. The bare bones of human relationships are laid out on the table for all to say, and it isn’t pretty, but sometimes its tender, and sometimes its exciting, and always it is love. Maybe it tells me something about myself in that I found it underwhelming and frustrating.

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Posted in: Cinema, Reviews