Scenes from a Marriage

Original Television Version 1973 ***** 297 mins.
U.S. Theatrical Version 1974 ***** 169 mins.

I had wanted to see this film for a long time before I ever finally got around to it. I remember seeing the 2004 Criterion DVD in stores, and something about it always spoke to me. I never got around to watching it until early 2019, thanks to the beautiful Criterion box set Ingmar Bergman's Cinema. Beginning the first week in January 2019, I began going through the box set, one film a week. When Scenes from a Marriage came around, I was both excited and nervous, due to the five hour running time of the original six-part miniseries. My plan was to spread the miniseries out over the whole week, then watch the feature film version the next week. Instead, I got so into the film and its characters, I absorbed the entire miniseries in one day, and I watched the film version two days later. I also watched the few special features Criterion provided, thereby enriching the experience even further.

Scenes from a Marriage began as a six-part Swedish television miniseries, written specifically for Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson, who had first worked with Bergman the previous year, on Cries and Whispers. Bergman saw their incredible chemistry in that film, and was anxious to put them together in a deeply intimate, soul searching project, and the result is nothing short of extraordinary. Scenes from a Marriage is so extraordinary, in fact, that after it was aired in Sweden, divorce rates and marriage counseling rates drastically increased. That fact alone shows the extraordinary power of this film and the fact that Ingmar Bergman is a true genius.

Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson play Marianne and Johan, a stereotypical "happily married couple," who have been married for ten years. After an article is written about their "perfect marriage," their relationship begins to unravel, due in part to a visit from a couple of friends who show them the hell of their own marriage. As the story progresses, it gets deeper and deeper into Marianne and Johan's relationship, holding no punches in its searing, intense dissection. Johan leaves her for another woman, who ends up not being all he thought she was. Both individuals find moving on to be quite difficult, and the six "Scenes" that are shown to us are both fascinating and frightening. No one who has ever been married can watch this film without being affected in some way. My wife and I are fortunate, as this film brought us closer together. It really helped us open our eyes to things we were blind to, and got us to open up more, sharing our feelings about all sorts of things. That's the key to keeping a good relationship alive: communication. If you have a problem with someone, that's the person it should be taken up with, tactfully and respectfully.

After its unexpected reception in Sweden, Bergman was approached with the idea of trimming it down to feature film length for international theatrical distribution. The resulting three-hour version is just as effective, trimming some side elements to the story that enrich the television version but aren't completely necessary to get and understand the story. I highly recommend watching this film in both versions, as it's an experience unlike any other. Bergman's use of 16mm photography, simple sets, extreme close-ups, and lack of musical score are incredibly effective, and the performances from Ullmann and Josephson are unforgettable. Scenes from a Marriage is definitely Bergman's crowning achievement, and it's one of the greatest films ever made.
Original televised aspect ratio: 1.33:1
Televised Version Not Rated.
U.S. Theatrical Version Rated PG.

Liv Ullmann + Erland Josephson + Bibi Andersson + Jan Malmsjo + Gunnel Lindblom + Wenche Foss + Anita Wall + Barbro Hiort af Ornas

Written and Directed by
Ingmar Bergman

SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE: Television Version on
SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE: Theatrical Version on
SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE in The Criterion Collection

Motion Pictures