Cinema: Scenes from a Marriage
Sunday nights are always fraught with a certain low-level anxiety, so what better time to watch a two and half hour portrait of the disintegration of a marriage? Despite its length and the fact for the most part there are only two actors on screen talking, 'Scenes from a Marriage',a film by Ingmar Bergman, is compelling. From the first scene where Johann and Marianne, an affluent middle-aged couple, are being interviewed for a lifestyle feature in a magazine to the last moments in a desolate cottage on an island off the Swedish coast when Marianne claims never to have loved or been loved, one's attention never waivers. That's probably something to do with the clinical but intimate style: the camera is rarely more than a recorder of what happens. The characters are all at once surprisingly formal and brimming with passion as their relationship goes down the pan. Johann tells Marianne at their summer home that he has decided to run off to Paris with a younger woman. She asks to see a photograph of his lover and then offers to pack his bags. They sleep together and he heads off the next morning. But some years later when their divorce is being finalised, Johann viciously beats Marianne and laments the redundancy of his life. "I'm 45 now and already a dead weight. I will probably live for another thirty years. To do what?," he reflects. Earlier we see Johann, who is a professor of pscychotechnology (not sure what that is, if anything), being ridiculed by a colleague to whom he has shown his poetry. The work is never published. Meanwhile, Marianne, a solicitor specialising in family law, can't feel anything and is trapped in a web of family commitments and expectations. How to break free from the strangehold of being a woman in a family, in a society that offers only limted opportunities to be oneself? But then what is the self? And could we really deal with absolute freedom if it was possible?
Thirty years later, in 2003, Bergman came out of retirement to make a loosely connected follow-up called 'Saraband', which is now something of a must-see.