Ingmar Bergman

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Marsha Kinder

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 605

Scenes from a Marriage is emotional dynamite. That may not be surprising for an Ingmar Bergman movie, but in some important ways this film moves in a new direction. It reaches new depths of psychological realism, and at the same time is actually hopeful…. Scenes from a Marriage made me feel more hopeful about the human condition—more willing to accept the contradictions in the desires and actions of myself and others, and more willing to believe in the possibilities of growth and change, particularly for women. (p. 48)

Unlike the interior locations in The Ritual and Cries and Whispers, [the environments in the film] are ordinary and realistic rather than theatrical or symbolic. Yet the rooms inhabited by Marianne and Johan express a great deal about their marriage. Despite the warmth of the earth colors and wood panelling that gloss its surface, their house is dominated by a routine symmetry in the arrangement of chairs, couches, lamps, tables, and flower pots, which is very restrictive. (p. 49)

As in earlier films, Bergman relies heavily on the facial close-up to explore the feelings of his characters, but this technique is handled less self-consciously than usual. Characteristically, a scene starts with a symmetrical medium two-shot. As the conversation becomes more intense and the characters begin to drop their social masks, the camera moves in for a close-up of the individual. The close-ups grow larger as the emotions become more heated…. Although the film's style is highly controlled, it is almost invisible; it does not call attention to itself. The only sign of artificiality is the division into six scenes, which is carried over from the original television format (six 50-minute segments, which have been cut down for theatrical distribution to two hours and 48 minutes); yet these divisions function like chapter headings in a psychological novel.

Scenes from a Marriage belongs to a new genre of expanded psychological realism—the four- or five-hour film exploring complex modern relationships, focusing on intense encounters between two or three people, and achieving a depth of characterization previously thought possible only in the novel. (p. 50)

In some ways, Scenes from a Marriage, and indeed the entire genre of expanded psychological realism, is related to the soap opera. The basic materials and subject matter are the same, though they are handled very differently. (p. 51)

The primary distinction between Scenes from a Marriage and soap opera is the way it affects us emotionally. The film's impact is tremendous. Instead of leading us to forget about our own lives and to get caught up vicariously in the intrigues of others, it throws us back on ourselves and our own experience…. We watch Johan and Marianne experience a kind of growth that has never before been captured on film. The portrayal of their marriage is so complex, so subtle, so varied and multi-dimensional that it is bound to trigger personal associations for anyone who has been involved in a long-term relationship…. The film implies that if we have the strength to take a relationship as far as it will go, to discard as many false masks as possible, to live through the outbursts of hatred and violence, to confront honestly our full range of feelings, we may discover an emotional capacity that is much deeper and richer than we expect. The doubts are never quieted, the struggle is never over, the confusion is never eliminated, but the imperfect love comforts and survives. (p. 53)

Marsha Kinder, "Reviews: 'Scenes from a Marriage'," in Film Quarterly (copyright 1974 by The Regents of the University of California; reprinted by permission of the University of California Press), Vol. XXVIII, No. 2, Winter, 1974–75, pp. 48-53.

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