March 28, 2004

Scenes From a Marriage. I've been watching the DVD of the Ingmar Bergman TV series Scenes From a Marriage, which had been edited down to feature film length for theater release in the US back in 1974. (Of course, being DVD, the film version is included. It's a beautiful Criterion release.) It is so exciting to get a chance to see the original form of the material, because the film itself was incredibly good and one had to assume the TV version was better. I saw the film when it came out, and one scene in particular had made a big impression on me, which I had remembered very clearly for 30 years. Liv Ullman plays a woman who, as presented in the first scene, is happily married. She's a divorce lawyer (so put this on those lists of films about law), and in another scene, which occurs in the second TV episode ("The Art of Sweeping Things Under the Rug"), she's interviewing a woman who is seeking a divorce after 20 years of marriage, a woman who told her husband 15 years ago that she didn't love him and wanted to leave but then agreed to stay until the children had grown. Now, describing her feelings about the marriage, she starts to speak of her feelings generally: all of her senses have diminished and the whole world lacks feeling and seems "puny" and insignificant. There's a closeup at this point that I waited to see once again, just the woman's fingers touching the wooden table next to her, as she describes having lost her sense of feeling. Then there's a closeup of Liv Ullman's face, the professional demeanor combined with the horrible fear that the same thing is happening to her. Liv Ullman's face at that point, which for some reason I didn't remember as much as the hand on the table, is my candidate for best closeup of all time (oh, along with Ingrid Bergman--another Swedish actress--at the end of Casablanca).

Scenes From a Marriage made an interesting contrast to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, seen earlier yesterday, and written about below. Sunshine is all about how you'll regret leaving, but Scenes is all about how you'll regret staying. In Sunshine, you stand to lose the love of your life. In Scenes, you stand to lose your own senses. There was a different zeitgeist then! Anyway, if that partner you're trying to leave took you to see Sunshine to prove to you why you should stay, you can argue the other side with Scenes, which is designed to stun you out of your complacency. No one wants to be that woman 20 years into a relationship who can't even feel the reality of the table under her hand. I think she might be the most frightening character in the history of film.

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