Archive for January 1st, 2020

 © 2019 by James Clark


By the year of 1973, Ingmar Bergman had crafted a remarkable wave of trenchant and thrilling films, not to mention an auxiliary career in theatre. He had no conspicuous need to produce a television series; but he did. Figuring out what possessed him to do that, becomes our job today.

The singularity (at that point), namely, Scenes from a Marriage, became a hit. But we must add that a television hit is not a Bergman film hit. He promptly pared that melodramatic jag into a feature film, of the same title; and something very strange and demanding came to pass. The two protagonists, Marianne and Johan, remain the patrician piece of work who ramped up those ratings. But, with Marianne’s caseload, as a divorce lawyer reduced to only one client to be seen, the Bergman we’ve come to know trains his concern about how a pair like Marianne and Johan (the latter being a professor of psychology) and their somehow lofty ilk manage to rule, not only modern life but all of world history.

The only adult on the screen being that client of Marianne’s—readily forgotten by the young and the restless in thrall to the seeming endless riot— a middle-aged woman who presents a need which Family Law (shored up by clinical psychology) does not touch, becomes a hit and run casualty, bound to self-remedy. (Later on, Johan makes an unintentional joke when declaring—bold as brass—“I don’t know anything about reality…”) The certified expert in the room (a room with Marianne’s beige apparel on beige décor) sits down with the client wearing black with a small yellow scarf. “In the first meeting we usually establish the issues and look at how to solve them,” Marianne explains. “I want a divorce,” the composed customer already concludes. The solver, with a process which may not avail itself to pat solutions, takes a statistical slant. “How long have you been married?” (The answer being, over 20 years.) “Do you have a profession?”/ “No, I’m a housewife.”/ “Why do you want a divorce?”/ (After a long pause, Marianne looks up from her notepad and sees the stranger twisting an envelope. Eventually, within a transaction she was perhaps not prepared to give reasons, she states, “There is no love in our marriage.” Cut to the lawyer, wide-eyed. “Is that the reason?” the far younger fixer asks. “Yes,” the somewhat nonplussed lady replies. Smiling professionally, our protagonist asks, “You’ve been married for a long time. Was this always the case?”/ “Yes, always.”/ “And now that your children have left the nest, you want to leave as well.” She nods, not looking directly at Marianne. “My husband is a responsible man. He’s kind and conscientious. I have nothing to complain about. He’s been an excellent father. We’ve never quarreled. We have a nice apartment and a lovely summer cottage we inherited from my mother-in-law. We’re both fond of music. We belong to a chamber music society and play together…”/ “It all seems idyllic.”/ “But there’s no love between us. There never has been.”/ Marianne in close-up and her notes, as she asks, not looking at the puzzling client, “Forgive me for asking, but have you met someone?”/ Cut to the lady in close-up, her candid eyes directed at the lawyer, measuring up Marianne. She smiles, more relaxed. “No, I haven’t.”/ With the lady onscreen, there is the questioner asking, “What about your husband?”/ “As far as I know, he has never been unfaithful.”/ Marianne in close-up, looking tired, says, “Won’t you be lonely?”/ “I guess… But it’s even lonelier in a loveless marriage.”/ Marianne, with pursed lips, and eyes down to her notes. “Have you told your husband you want a divorce?”/ The lady becoming quietly annoyed by the tenor of this interaction. “Of course.” Her eyes direct, and slightly ironic. She adopts a resolved smile. “Fifteen years ago I told him I didn’t want to live with him anymore, since there was no love in our marriage. He was very understanding.” (The lady’s eyes drift into a void.) “He merely asked me to wait until the children had grown up. Now all three have grown up and left home. Now I can have my divorce.”/ Marianne speaks while we still see the petitioner. “So what does he say?”/ “He keeps asking me what’s wrong with our marriage. And I tell him I can’t go on with a relationship that lacks love. Then he asks me what love is supposed to involve. But I tell him I don’t know. How can I describe something that’s not there?”/ Cut to a rather blasé, smug lawyer, lipped-pursed and pedantic. “Have you been on good terms with your children? Emotionally…”/ The lady now back onscreen. Her gaze at Marianne suggests that she knows she won’t be more than an item of cash-flow here. “I’ve never loved my children [her face being stricken by more than that]. I know that now [her mouth tight]. I used to think I did… You always do… But now I know that I never loved them. Still, I’ve been a good mother… I’ve done all I could, even though I never felt anything for them.” As she looks downward, the paradox of her discourse begins to bite. That standoff can’t continue. Her divorce and its solitude comprises a crucial daring, far from readily resolved. (She’s neither as severe nor as discerning as she likes to think.) She’s ready for the inevitable critique from a fat cat (late for the appointment due to a lunch with Johan being a bit prolonged due to her mooting an exotic trip, for the sake of doing something about her malaise, having been broached on the car ride into town; then dropped, as if nothing). The lady addresses the girl, “I know just what you’re thinking” (brief cut to Marianne, with a strained smile). The girl with the profession says, “Really?”/ “A spoiled woman with no sense of humor… She has everything she could possibly want—but still she goes on about love. What about friendship, loyalty, security?”/ Cut to a smiling Marianne. “Something like that, yes…”/ This elicits a hard look across the universe. “Let me tell you something. I have a mental picture of myself that doesn’t correspond to reality.”/ Being reminded that she recently made a short cut through that path [in the sprawling TV version—not to be too caught up in its soap opera; but not to be entirely ignored], Marianne wakes up a bit. “Pardon me if I ask you a personal question… Isn’t true love…” [She rubs her brow, looks down]/ “What were you going to ask?”/ “I’m not sure. Forgive me” [lips pursed]./ From the lady’s punishing depths to a precinct of control, there is the notice, “I tell myself I have a capacity to love [hands closed]… but it’s been [open hands] bottled up…”/ (Cut to a bemused Marianne)/ The errant lady oracle, invading a corporate sanctuary, recounts, “The life I’ve led has stifled my potential…”/ Clearly unimpressed now, Marianne wants this to end. The stranger—like those of the string of other oracles of past films by an artist so adept in weaving discursive presentation into scintillating film—knows intuitively that nothing avails with the Marianne’s of the world. But, for the sense of a semblance of intelligence, the payer continues, “The time has come to change all that. The first step is divorce. My husband and I cancel each other out.”/ “That sounds frightening,” the solver declares./ “It is frightening. Something peculiar is happening. My senses—sight, hearing, touch, are starting to fail me. This table, for instance… I can see it and touch it. But the sensation is deadened and dry…”/ (A very quick slide pan catches Marianne with a visage of fright.”/ “Do you understand?” the bidder for change asks./ “I think I do…” [at least while emoting, “I’m not certain I  know who I am,” in the simplistic version]./ The real thinker leaves us with, “It’s the same with everything, music, scents, faces, voices. Everything seems puny, grey and undignified.” (more…)

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