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Scenes from a Marriage: The Criterion Collection

Married for over ten years, Marianne (Liv Ulmann) and Johan (Erland Josephson) begin to question their relationship through the events of their day-to-day lives. A dinner party with some friends includes the announcement of their divorce (or might, as both seem drunk and unsure), a college friend flirts with Johan while dismissing his poetry, and Marriane assists an older woman in getting a divorce, since the old woman's marriage is loveless. Spending time together, the two like each other intellectually, but as in many relationships, the sex has stopped and both partners are getting fidgety about it. And Johan has a big revelation: He's been seeing a woman named Paula for eight months, and wants a divorce. But though their marriage may be over, Johan and Marianne still care about each other and find it hard not to fall into each other's arms periodically. Ingmar Bergman's six-part, 299-min. miniseries Scenes from a Marriage (1973) was released theatrically stateside in a truncated 169-min. version a year after it premiered. It is this version that Americans are most familiar with, since until now it was the only way it was available on home video. The Criterion Collection release remedies the situation — both the theatrical and TV versions are included. The differences are noticeable and obvious, as over two hours were cut to make it theatrically palatable: The TV cut lets one get to know the characters better, and it has a more humanistic and slower pacing to it, with subplots involving an abortion and sequence featuring Marrianne's mom the most obvious sacrifices. As film historian Peter Cowie says, it's best enjoyed spaced out over multiple nights of viewing. However, the theatrical cut plays more like a movie by driving the narrative (such as it is) through its emotional highs and lows. Both have their positives, both are excellent; one just plays better over six nights, while the other is more immediately satisfying. As a piece (and perhaps more importantly, as a Bergman work) Scenes from a Marriage is in line with much of the director's other meditations on the human condition. But unlike many of his other efforts, it's a modern story, dealing with people trying to sort through common relationship issues, which gives it an intimacy and a broader appeal that many of Bergman's period films lack. And it's that intimacy that makes the picture shine, both in its casting and performances. Ulmann and Josephson are phenomenal actors, and they give their characters the appropriate amount of familiarity. They're intelligent people unable to explain or understand their emotions, and they are both unflinching for Bergman's and DP Sven Nykvist's camera. It's also obvious that one of the film's biggest fans is Woody Allen (no surprise); much of his wonderful Husbands and Wives comes across as a riff on this film. If the characters were speaking with New York accents instead of in Swedish, and if they threw in the occasional one-liner, it would play about the same. Criterion's three-disc set presents both versions of Scenes from a Marriage in full frame (1.33:1) and monaural Swedish 1.0 audio with optional English subtitles. Each disc contains a sole supplement — on the first it's a 1986 interview with Bergman about the film (15 min.), on Disc Two there's a new interview with stars Ulmann and Josephson (24 min.), and on Disc Three there's a video interview with Bergman scholar Peter Cowie (15 min.) that illuminates the differences between the two versions of the film. Triple-DVD keep-case.
—DSH



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