So that’s where Woody Allen gets his inspiration from. Noted. Scenes from a Marriage caused a catalyst and crisis inside a director who utilised that for his entire career. If that is the influence director Ingmar Bergman can have with only one piece of his filmography, then I fear what the man is capable of. He is clearly capable of utilising imagery to its full effect, look no further than The Seventh Seal for that, but Scenes from a Marriage is the quintessential character study. We intrude in the lives of a couple now reaching their breaking point, and as they flutter through the weeks and months, they are intimate, distant and troubled.
If they weren’t, Bergman would have a real uphill struggle in detailing the highs and lows of their lives. Marianne (Liv Ullmann) and Johan (Erland Josephson) are unhappy. With what, it is never quite realised. Sometimes love fizzles out for no good reason, and that is what Scenes from a Marriage captures so well. It displays that boredom, the stifled isolation that can come from the rigid structure of a happy life with a wife and kids. But even with affairs, other men and women and a layer of hatred between them, there is a bond lying underneath that they cannot ignore. They are opposing forces, and opposites attract. Neither character is perfect. If they were, we would begin to take sides, but considering how some episodes are merely the two characters, together, chewing the fat and talking through their problems, it is incredible that Bergman can balance the two.
We are not asked to pick favourites or hate the swine that started the breakdown but are there to listen and understand the human doubts of either character. They are erratic and mismanaged, but aren’t many of the doubts and errors in relationships? I wouldn’t know. I’m a healthy and happy bachelor, and that will remain so, for fear of feeling like Liv Ullman here. She is gripped with the sudden horrors of loss. She is on the back foot in those early episodes, because she cannot explain or understand why Johan is leaving her. It is her inability to contextualise the break-up that brings her many of the woes. Even then, it is hard to hate Johan, because he is equally unhappy. They both bounce between affairs and relationships but never feel as though they have quite settled.
But Bergman has settled. He has made up his mind on how to conduct these broken lovers and does so with an unflinching beauty rarely seen by directors who married five times. Perhaps his insights into failed relationships and why they break down is valuable, though. He had clocked his fourth marriage at the time of filming, and his relationship with Ullman had only come to a close two or three years prior. How can we avoid the romances of the director when his film seems to detail what he feels? By the looks of it, Bergman felt trapped and alone, isolated from a partner he loves. Rather than probing the problems and facing up to them, Scenes from a Marriage shows what usually happens, and as the love ebbs away, people turn to extensions of themselves to fix their desires and fill their hearts.