Some films seem to be dated just a few years after they come out. Others, like Ingmar Bergman's Scenes from a Marriage, somehow feel fresh even thirty-five years later. Maybe it's the Swedish aesthetic, rendered timeless by our familiarity with Ikea (which opened its first store in 1958), but almost everything about this film felt thoroughly contemporary. I say film, but this Criterion Collection DVD set actually includes the original six-part miniseries, which was collapsed into a three hour theatrical release for North American audiences. I watched the full version, ensconced in my bed all afternoon and evening. It was thoroughly engrossing and perfect. It's like unfunny Woody Allen, in the best possible way.
The title is apt; each "scene" is an episode, and taken as a series they chart the dissolution of a marriage and the evolution of a relationship. Liv Ullman is luminous (it's hard to look at anything but her) as Marianne, a woman who is devastated by the breakup of her marriage, but comes to realize who she was meant to be, as opposed to who she became in a relationship. Erland Josephson plays Johan, who sort of undergoes the opposite realization.
The best parts of this series are the moments of absurdity that reveal themselves in the minutiae of Marianne and Johan's relationship. Their marriage is on the brink of collapse, Johan is planning on leaving in the morning, and they go to bed together. Marianne suddenly leaps up, leans over Johan and picks up the alarm clock from his side of the bed, lying against him as she sets the alarm so he's up in time.
Love is complicated. Life is complicated. Scenes from a Marriage is complicated yet beautifully simple.