Scenes from a Marriage

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Scenes from a Marriage
Scenes from a Marriage DVD cover.jpg
Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Produced by Lars-Owe Carlberg
Written by Ingmar Bergman
Starring Liv Ullmann
Erland Josephson
Cinematography Sven Nykvist
Edited by Siv Lundgren
Cinematograph AB
Distributed by Sveriges Radio (1973 broadcast)
Cinema 5 Distribution (1974 theatrical)
Release dates
  • 11 April 1973 (1973-04-11)
Running time
281 minutes (TV version)[1]
167 minutes (Theatrical)[2]
Country Sweden
Language Swedish
Budget USD$150,000

Scenes from a Marriage (Swedish: Scener ur ett äktenskap) is a 1973 Swedish Television miniseries written and directed by Ingmar Bergman and starring Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson. The story explores the disintegration of the marriage between Marianne, a family lawyer specializing in divorce, and Johan, spanning a period of 10 years. Bergman's teleplay draws on his own experiences, including his relationship with Ullmann. It was shot on a small budget in Stockholm and Fårö in 1972.

After initially airing on Swedish TV in six parts, the miniseries was condensed into a theatrical version that received positive reviews in Sweden and internationally. Scenes from a Marriage was also the subject of controversy for its perceived influence on rising divorce rates in Europe. The film was ineligible for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, but won the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film and several other honours.

The miniseries and film version influenced filmmakers such as Woody Allen and Richard Linklater. It was followed by a sequel, Saraband, in 2003, and stage adaptations.


The TV miniseries' six episodes ran between 11 April and 16 May 1973. At about 50 minutes per episode, the miniseries totals 282 minutes.[3]

Scenes from each episode appear in the film version, which is 168 minutes long.[3] The episode titles appear in the film version as chapter titles.[4]

# Title Original airdate
1 "Innocence and Panic" 11 April 1973
An affluent couple, Marianne and Johan, are interviewed for a magazine series on love after having renewed their marriage contract after their 10th anniversary. In the interview, they come across as an ideal couple. Afterward, they entertain the couple Peter and Katarina, who have a miserable relationship. Marianne reveals to Johan she is pregnant, and she winds up having an abortion.
2 "The Art of Sweeping Things Under the Rug" 18 April 1973
Marianne wakes up one morning determined to not visit her parents for dinner, as the family usually does each week, and is forced to back down. At the university where Johan works, he shares poetry that he has not let Marianne see with a female colleague, who tells him it is mediocre. Later, Marianne and Johan debate the lack of joy they take in their sex life.
3 "Paula" 25 April 1973
Johan reveals to Marianne that he is having an affair with a younger woman named Paula, an unseen character, and wants a separation. He intends to leave home for months, and shares his frustrations about their marriage and longtime desire to leave. Upon phoning a friend for help, Marianne learns many of her friends knew about the affair before she did.
4 "The Vale of Tears" 2 May 1973
Johan visits Marianne, disclosing he intends to take a position at Cleveland University. Marianne then suggests they should finalize a divorce, hinting she is interested in remarrying. She shares what she has learned about herself in therapy.
5 "The Illiterates" 9 May 1973
Marianne and Johan meet to finalize their divorce, leading to more arguments over the division of their property, the upbringing of their daughters and Marianne's new enjoyment of sex with her current partner. After the arguments escalate into physical violence, Johan sadly signs the papers.
6 "In the Middle of the Night in a Dark House Somewhere in the World" 16 May 1973
Despite having both been remarried to other people, Marianne and Johan meet for an affair. Marianne reveals she had an affair in 1955, very shortly after they were married. It has been 20 years since they were married. Going to a friend's country house, Marianne has a nightmare, and wakes up fretting she has never loved or been loved. Johan comforts her that they share an imperfect love.



Director Ingmar Bergman drew on personal experiences with actress Liv Ullmann in writing the teleplay.

Director Ingmar Bergman wrote the teleplay for Scenes From a Marriage over three months, drawing on his personal experiences, including his relationship with Ullmann.[5] The budget was approximately one-third that of Bergman's previous film, Cries and Whispers, with half covered by Swedish Television and half by foreign companies.[6]

It was filmed in Stockholm and Fårö between July and October 1972.[7] Cinematographer Sven Nykvist emphasized close-ups and employed small indoor film sets. Nykvist later regretted not using more tracking shots when he learned the miniseries would have a theatrical release.[8] The filming schedule was one week per episode.[6]

Ullmann compared performing in Scenes From a Marriage to appearing in a documentary, saying she "felt very connected to the role." She said she was becoming more involved in the feminist movement while making the film.[8] Due to Ullmann and Erland Josephson's comfort with their parts, the crew saved time by not having rehearsals.[6]


The miniseries was broadcast in Sweden by SVT2 beginning on 11 April 1973.[9] Polls indicated most of the viewers were women.[7]

In the United States, a 167-minute[2] version of the miniseries was released in cinemas, with the 16 mm film modified to 35 mm.[8] It opened in New York City on 21 September 1974.[7] The full miniseries was later aired in the U.S. by PBS in March and April 1977,[7] and numerous times in 1979.[10]


Critical reception[edit]

Swedish director Maj Wechselmann criticized the miniseries for its approach to marriage roles.

In Sweden, the miniseries received positive reviews for its dialogue and realism, with Mauritz Edstrom calling it "one of Bergman's finest human portrayals."[7] Åke Janzon said that while the miniseries was not a masterpiece, it demonstrated psychological tension.[7] Swedish director Maj Wechselmann criticized it on feminist grounds, saying it failed to criticize marriage roles.[7] Bergman replied that the miniseries was meant to depict "Marianne's liberation" and female "suppressed aggressions."[11]

One controversy revolved around allegations that the film led to higher divorce rates in Sweden and around Europe[12] by teaching couples to communicate their conflicts.[13] Swedish divorce rates allegedly doubled one year after the broadcast in 1973.[14][15] Time Out author Rachel Halliburton has disputed these allegations, remarking that sexual and women's liberation were gaining prominence at the time and that the miniseries "as such was as much a symptom of what was happening to modern marriage as a cause."[16]

In the United States, Roger Ebert gave the theatrical version four stars, praising it as "one of the truest, most luminous love stories ever made."[17] Vincent Canby, crief critic for The New York Times, called the theatrical version "a movie of such extraordinary intimacy that it has the effect of breaking into mysterious components many things we ordinarily accept without thought, familiar and banal objects, faces, attitudes, and emotions, especially love. [...] Ullmann again establishes herself as one of the most fascinating actresses of our time." Canby also wrote that "Josephson gives an equally complex performance" but found the character less admirable.[4] Don Druker of Chicago Reader criticized the editing for the theatre, saying that the film "shows its reassembled status rather badly," and that "moments of searing insight" were provided mainly by Ullmann.[18]

In 2004, essayist Phillip Lopate wrote that Scenes From a Marriage showed Bergman moving on from exploration of the silence of God to the subject of men, women, love and intimacy. Lopate judged the film edit to be "more harrowing and theatrical," while the miniseries "has the tendency to intersect with and form a more quotidian relationship to viewers’ lives; its characters become members of the family, and their resilience over time, regardless of the incessant crises thrown them by the script, induces a more good-humored, forgiving atmosphere."[19] In 2007, Kristi McKim of Senses of Cinema wrote that the film "stunningly exemplified" the "tension" in "the emotional causes and effects of feeling incompatible desires within the modern world."[20] The film has a 94% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 15 reviews.[21]


Scenes From a Marriage sparked controversy when its ineligibility for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film was questioned. The supposed reason was that it aired on television before it played in cinemas, but at the time that did not necessarily render a film ineligible. In this case, it was because the TV broadcast occurred the year before its theatrical debut in 1974.[22] The film's ineligibility prompted 24 filmmakers, including Frank Capra and Federico Fellini, to write an open letter demanding the rules for eligibility be revised.[22]

Award Category Recipient(s) Result Ref(s)
BAFTA Awards Best Actress Liv Ullmann Nominated [23]
Golden Globes Best Foreign Language Film Scenes From a Marriage Won [24]
Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Liv Ullmann Nominated
National Society of Film Critics Best Film Scenes From a Marriage Won [22]
Best Screenplay Ingmar Bergman Won
Best Actress Liv Ullmann Won
Best Supporting Actress Bibi Andersson Won
New York Film Critics Circle Best Film Scenes From a Marriage Runner-up [25]
Best Director Ingmar Bergman Runner-up
Best Screenplay Ingmar Bergman Won
Best Actress Liv Ullmann Won
Best Supporting Actress Bibi Andersson Runner-up


Scenes From a Marriage has influenced Woody Allen's filmography.

Bergman wrote the first stage adaptation of Scenes From a Marriage for the Residenztheater in Munich in 1981.[26] Saraband, a quasi-sequel set decades after the original miniseries, aired on Swedish television in 2003.[27] In 2008, a theatrical adaption by Joanna Murray-Smith was performed at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry, directed by Trevor Nunn and starring Imogen Stubbs and Iain Glen.

Knots Landing creator David Jacobs based the series on Scenes from a Marriage.[28] It focused on four married couples whose marriages were in various stages and ran from 1979 to 1993.

In 1991, Woody Allen costarred in Paul Mazursky's Scenes from a Mall, a dark comedy about a deteriorating marriage.[29] Allen's similarly realist film Husbands and Wives (1992) is also influenced by Scenes from a Marriage.[30]

In an April 2011 New York Times Opinionator article titled "Too Much Relationship Vérité", Virginia Heffernan compares An American Family to Scenes from a Marriage:

It’s now the future. And the 12-hour PBS time capsule, which will make a rare reappearance next week at the Paley Center in Manhattan and on some public-TV affiliates beginning Saturday, looks more like performance art than social science. Hammy stunts for the camera alternate with Bergman-esque staging. ("Scenes from a Marriage", Bergman’s fictional TV series, also appeared in 1973, in Sweden.)[31]

In June 2013, actor Ethan Hawke and director Richard Linklater said Scenes from a Marriage was the standard by which their Before Midnight must be judged.[32]


  1. ^ The Swedish Film Database: Scener ur ett äktenskap (1973) retrieved 2011-07-18
  2. ^ a b "SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE (AA)". British Board of Film Classification. 1974-11-04. Retrieved 2013-03-24. 
  3. ^ a b Jerry Vermilye, Ingmar Bergman: His Life and Films, McFarland & Company, 2002, p. 142.
  4. ^ a b Vincent Canby, "SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE," The New York Times, 16 September 1974, URL accessed 2 October 2016.
  5. ^ Bert Cardullo, "Ingmar Bergman," European Directors and Their Films: Essays on Cinema, The Scarecrow Press, 2012, p. 221.
  6. ^ a b c Frank Gado, The Passion of Ingmar Bergman, Duke University Press, p. 399.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Birgitta Steene, Ingmar Bergman: A Reference Guide, Amsterdam University Press, p. 425.
  8. ^ a b c John De Vito and Frank Tropea, Epic Television Miniseries: A Critical History, McFarland & Company, 2010, p. 202.
  9. ^ Steene, p. 424.
  10. ^ Deborah Tannen, Gender and Discourse, Oxford University Press, 1994, p. 142.
  11. ^ Steene, p. 426.
  12. ^ Raphael Shargel, ed., Ingmar Bergman: Interviews, University Press of Mississippi, 2007, p. xxv.
  13. ^ Gwladys Fouché, "Do Swedes still blame Bergman for upping the divorce rate?," The Guardian, 30 July 2008, URL accessed 3 October 2016.
  14. ^ Ben Brantley, "A Marriage in Trouble, in Triplicate," The New York Times, 22 September 2014, URL accessed 3 October 2016.
  15. ^ Paul Taylor, "Theatre review: Scenes from a Marriage - 'A merciless dissection on the state of matrimony'," The Independent, 25 September 2013, URL accessed 3 October 2016.
  16. ^ Rachel Halliburton, "Scenes from a Marriage," Time Out, 25 September 2013, URL accessed 3 October 2016.
  17. ^ Roger Ebert, "Scenes from a Marriage,", 15 September 1974, URL accessed 2 October 2016.
  18. ^ Don Druker, "Scenes From a Marriage," Chicago Reader, URL accessed 2 October 2016.
  19. ^ Phillip Lopate, "Scenes from a Marriage," The Criterion Collection, 15 March 2004, URL accessed 2 October 2016.
  20. ^ Kristi McKim, "Marriage as Cinematic Movement, or Loving the Face in Close-Up: Scenes From a Marriage," Senses of Cinema, August 2007, Issue 44, URL accessed 2 October 2016.
  21. ^ "SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE (SCENER UR ETT ÄKTENSKAP) (1974)," Rotten Tomatoes, URL accessed 2 October 2016.
  22. ^ a b c Anita Gates, "There Are Movies, And Then There Are Movies," The New York Times, 15 January 1995, URL accessed 2 October 2016.
  23. ^ Robert Emmet Long, ed., Liv Ullmann: Interviews, University Press of Mississippi, 2006, p. xvi.
  24. ^ "Scenes From a Marriage," Golden Globe Awards," URL accessed 2 October 2016.
  25. ^ "1974 Awards," New York Film Critics Circle, URL accessed 2 October 2016.
  26. ^ Gado, p. 400.
  27. ^ John Sundholm, Historical Dictionary of Scandinavian Cinema, Scarecrow Press, 2012, p. 74.
  28. ^ Mike Celizic, "‘Knots Landing’ cast explains drama’s longevity,", 28 February 2008, URL accessed 2 October 2016.
  29. ^ Richard Eno, "10 Strong Cinematic Links Between Ingmar Bergman and Woody Allen," Taste of Cinema, 30 November 2014, URL accessed 2 October 2016.
  30. ^ Vincent Canby, "Review/Film -- Husbands and Wives; Fact? Fiction? It Doesn't Matter," The New York Times, 18 September 1992, URL accessed 2 October 2016.
  31. ^ Heffernan, Virginia (17 April 2011). "Too Much Relationship Vérité". The New York Times. Retrieved 18 September 2012. 
  32. ^ Film Society of Lincoln Center (6 June 2013). "Summer Talks: "Before Midnight"". Retrieved 24 June 2013. 

External links[edit]