Tuesday, January 15, 2013
In many ways I grew up with this movie; on an emotional level, I mean that literally. Properly speaking, it's more of a television mini-series—and something of an event at that when it ran on Swedish television in the spring of 1973. Stories are that the entire country stopped to watch each weekly episode (one per week on the same day and time is still a good way to look at it). The first version that I saw in the mid-'70s was the chopped-down cut made for a U.S. theatrical release, which reduced it from its six-part 300 minutes to a still-long 167 minutes and also dubbed all the dialogue into English. I was 19 or 20, and mostly just bored.
But some 15 years later, working my way through the thickets of a divorce, I saw that same version again on a VHS tape from the library and it all but did me in then and there. I have since seen the theatrical version without the dubbing, and eventually, when Criterion did it right as they do so much right, the entire mini-series, which of course I would now recommend without hesitation as the version to see. But I can say from experience that even the bowdlerized, dubbed version is worth a look, and I wouldn't hesitate if it was my only option.
I'm hard put to think of any other film that has two matched performances of this caliber. Erland Josephson and Liv Ullmann are towering, masterful, amazing, unforgettable—somebody stop me before I get my hands on a thesaurus. It's just not possible to overstate how good they both are here. It's a clinic in film acting, made even more impressive by the fact that, with a few exceptions here and there, they bear all the screen time for the entire five hours.
I admire Ingmar Bergman a lot, but must say I often find many of his older films now almost so dated as to verge on trite. The dream sequences, the fanciful chess matches with death, even the bleak Nordic landscapes—I'll allow that my fatigue on these scores might only be some indication of his massive influence. At the same time, his projects from the second half of his career too often seem to me to indulge a taste for the bizarrely grotesque, almost to the point where it feels pro forma. (A good example is the quasi-sequel to this that he made in 2003, Saraband, which works in an incest theme that elucidates very little else.) Scenes From a Marriage is among the places where I think he got everything just right (along with, to only slightly lesser degrees, Persona and Fanny and Alexander).
There's not much available on YouTube that's particularly amenable to English-speaking monoglots such as myself. The clip at the link, with Swedish dialogue and subtitles in a language I don't recognize, will have to do. It's in a universal language anyway that I think nearly everyone who has been married, and certainly everyone who has been divorced, will quickly recognize. I hasten to note that not all of these "scenes from a marriage" are like this—virtually the whole range of experience seems to me to be contained in it, and effectively so, from joy to sadness to complacency to intimacy to boredom, petty competitiveness, genuine kindness, and more. That range is exactly what makes it so great.
"Aklindaki nedir biliyorum."
Phil #2: Rosemary's Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968) (scroll down)
Steven #2: The Sorrow and the Pity (Marcel Ophuls, 1969)
Not sure why, because Steven had mentioned early that his #2 was a documentary, but I was still surprised to find The Sorrow and the Pity here and so high. Similarly, I knew Rosemary's Baby was a favorite of Phil's, but somehow didn't expect it to go all the way to #2. My pick here actually turned out to be the only Bergman among all three lists, with no Kurosawas for any of us, which came as more surprises for me. You start out these countdowns thinking you have all the time in the world for everything, but then you get down to the last few and opportunities seem to dry up fast.