The cliché of an Ingmar Bergman film seems to be that of a melancholy, existentialist treatise on the meaninglessness of life and of relationships, most likely in black and white. You know the kind of thing: people standing at the beach, being depressed. I’ve said so before, but that’s not the Bergman I’ve found, even in films such as The Seventh Seal, and most definitely not in Fanny and Alexander (both of these are yet to come in our journey through Criterion’s amazing box set Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema). Look at something like Scenes from a Marriageand alongside the acrimony, emotional cruelty and existential despair that doubtlessly fuel the conflict between Marianne and Johan, you’ll definitely also find warmth, humaneness and humour.
I rather wish there had been more of the latter in Shame, a film that, while recognisably Bergman in its concerns – and obviously in its cast -, reminded me of Michael Haneke in its relentless grimness. It is perhaps telling that one of the rare scenes where the film displays a sense of humour shows one of its characters to be such a bad shot that he fails to kill a chicken that’s barely half a metre in front of him.
By the end of the film, the chickens have lost their lives nonetheless and that character has become both able and more than willing to use his gun on a human being.
How’s that for coincidence? I ended my write-up of Saraband with a reference to everyone’s favourite dysfunctional married couple, George and Martha (sad, sad, sad) from Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Fast forward to the next film on our Swedish odyssey, the 1980 From the Life of Marionettes (Aus dem Leben der Marionetten), which Bergman made for German state TV while in tax exile – and there is more than a touch of the seething resentment and marital cruelty of Albee’s classic on display.
For the last week or so, my wife and I have been mostly at home, except for the occasional trip to the shops or a short walk every day to get some fresh air and catch some sun. Other than that, we’ve been good, keeping our social distance, barely seeing, let alone talking, to others. It’s just the two of us.
What better time than this to visit our old friends, Marianne and Johan, everyone’s favourite dysfunctional couple?*
The film version of Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage is almost three hours long, but watching it roughly one month after finishing the TV series, my first and foremost impression is this: the film feels fast. Not rushed, necessarily, but watching it is a sharper, more focused experience than watching the six episodes of the series, but also one that feels strangely breathless. It makes me wonder why Criterion decided on that particular sequence; my recommendation would probably be to watch the film first and then the TV series. I am curious, though, what the experience would have been like the other way around, something I’ll never know now.