Scenes from a Marriage, which is based on Ingmar Bergman’s experimental 1973 television mini-series of the same name, seems extremely American and modern, yet skilfully evokes the original’s freshness and intensity. Indeed, the original series was recently referenced in the film Bergman Island, which showed a picturesque setting where the filmmaker shot the episodes. Scenes from a Marriage, starring Liv Ullman and Erland Josephson, was a critical success and a watershed moment for Bergman, whose work on television was as good as any of his best-known feature films.
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Bergman revisits the couple thirty years later in Saraband. The main publicity image for that 2003 film is identical to the one for Hagai Levi’s 2021 adaptation: the couple stands close together in a near embrace, eyes closed, heads bowed forward and touching. The suggestion is that thirty years hence, perhaps Jonathan and Mira (Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain) will find themselves similarly reunited after their divorce?
The five-part series (Bergman’s was six) lasts 10 years, although the first half is spread out over months. Mira and Jonathan, who have a small daughter, appear to be in treatment in the first episode (a tribute to creator Levi’s superb series In Treatment, which is based on his Israeli series Be’Tipul). They’re being questioned by a Ph.D. student who’s researching gender roles in marriage to find out how they identify themselves or don’t. Defining their expectations of “husband” or “wife” raises concerns about the marriage’s health. Mira, who works for a well-known software firm, is the major breadwinner, while Jonathan, a professor, is the stay-at-home parent. When asked to talk about their relationship with a stranger, they appear self-conscious.
Scenes from a Marriage is now available on HBO Max.
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