Scenes from a Marriage

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Scenes from a Marriage
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 series written and directed by Ingmar Bergman. The story explores the disintegration of a marriage between Marianne, a lawyer, and Johan, a professor (played respectively by Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson) over a long period, using a restricted cast, a naturalist, hyper-realistic cinematic style, claustrophobic close-ups, and strings of rapid, articulate monologues. After major success in Sweden, the series became notorious worldwide when it was condemned for allegedly inspiring a spike in Scandinavian divorce rates, which nearly doubled in the year of its release.


This plot summary is for the 281-minute[1] TV miniseries version of the work (the feature film retains the episode names as chapter titles). Each episode concludes with long, quiet, comforting shots of Fårö landscapes, as a "relief" from the up-close, tense and claustrophobic episodes. Each episode is structured around one critical scene, described below, with the rest of the episode dedicated to discussion and aftereffects. Some of the episodes occur months or years apart.

# Title
1 "Innocence and Panic"
The story begins around Marianne's and Johan's 10th anniversary, when a reporter for a women's magazine interviews them. Peter and Katarina visit later for dinner, and cruelly humiliate one another.
2 "The Art of Sweeping Things Under the Rug"
Marianne tries to withdraw from a Sunday dinner with her parents but fails and realizes how difficult it is for her to let down other people's expectations. Johan flirts with another woman at work.
3 "Paula"
The couple retreat to their country house. Johan informs Marianne that he wants a separation and is leaving for Paris the next day with his lover, Paula.
4 "The Vale of Tears"
Johan is disillusioned with Paula and revisits Marianne. They discuss their current lives and Johan attempts to initiate sex, but Marianne is unwilling. He attempts to spend the night but cannot sleep and leaves.
5 "The Illiterates"
Marianne and Johan meet at his office to sign divorce papers, but Johan refuses. The two fight savagely. Johan declares that they are emotional illiterates. They sign the papers.
6 "In the Middle of the Night in a Dark House Somewhere in the World"
Marianne and Johan have married other people, but are unhappy. Having met coincidentally in a theatre some time earlier, they have begun secretly seeing each other again. On the 20th anniversary of their wedding, they decide to spend time together at their country house. Finding that too strange, they go to a friend's country house instead. There they discuss how much they have changed, with Marianne more self-conscious and Johan accepting his real abilities. When Marianne awakes panicking from a nightmare, Johan comforts her.



The TV version of Scenes from a Marriage is almost five hours long, split into six episodes. In the United States, a 167-minute[2] version was released in cinemas. The film was made on a $150,000 budget and was shot mostly in Fårö, Gotlands län, Sweden.


The film won several accolades, including BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations for Liv Ullmann (Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama), and a Best Foreign Language Film.

A sequel, Saraband, was released theatrically in 2003. In 2008, a theatrical adaptation by Joanna Murray-Smith was performed at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry, directed by Trevor Nunn and starring Imogen Stubbs and Iain Glen.

In popular culture

Dallas and Knots Landing creator David Jacobs based Knots Landing on Scenes from a Marriage. It focused on four married couples whose marriages were in various stages: the newlyweds, the ideal couple, the couple whose marriage was in trouble, and the couple that had recently reconciled. The series ran from 1979 to 1993.

In the 1984 SCTV skit/commercial parody "Scenes from an Idiot's Marriage", Martin Short plays Jerry Lewis playing a writer who goes through a comedic version of Scenes from a Marriage, complete with pratfalls and constant mistakes in Swedish pronunciation (he constantly calls Sven Gunderblum "Sy Worthenson" when his wife (Andrea Martin) announces that she is divorcing him and gives him Gunderblum's name as her lawyer).

In 1991, Woody Allen co-starred in Paul Mazursky's Scenes from a Mall, a dark comedy about a deteriorating marriage. Allen's similarly realist film Husbands and Wives (1992) includes several nods to Scenes from a Marriage, including a wife who will not show her poetry to her husband.

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.)[3]

In June 2013, actor Ethan Hawke and director Richard Linklater said Scenes from a Marriage was the bar against which Before Midnight must be set.[4]


  1. 1.0 1.1 The Swedish Film Database: Scener ur ett äktenskap (1973) retrieved 2011-07-18
  2. 2.0 2.1 "SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE (AA)". British Board of Film Classification. 4 November 1974. Retrieved 24 March 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Heffernan, Virginia (17 April 2011). "Too Much Relationship Vérité". The New York Times. Retrieved 18 September 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Film Society of Lincoln Center (6 June 2013). "Summer Talks: "Before Midnight"". Retrieved 24 June 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links