'Scenes from a marriage' may seem like a bit of a chore: three hours relentlessly focused on two people falling apart. And yet, it is one of Bergman's easiest films to watch, perhaps because it was made for TV, where there is rather more of a duty to hold a casual audience. There are no deep metaphysical questions in the film, no long abstract conversations, little narrative trickery, just the everyday problems of recognisable people, perhaps slightly more articulate than the rest of us.
Bergman gives us a host of conventional reasons for the marriage's failure, but he has never been very interested in the naturalistic causes of anything. In long, compelling takes, he gies us the process of marital drama; the experience, the taste, the gestures, irritations; the words expressed to fill up space, or words not thought through enough, yet taken as Holy Writ by the partner; the games, strategies, sarcasms, insults; the veneer of middle-class civility teetering on the brink of savage violence.
There is nothing as irreperable or final as a Hollywood film here, people feel one thing one minute, do another the next: they bear the scars but move on, there is no 'fixed' character. People used to Hollywood practices of closure or plot inevitability may find this disturbing.
The characters played by Erland Josephson and Liv Ullmann are rarely sympathetic, but they are more: difficult, sometimes devious, always vulnerable people forced to make hasty decisions that can change lives, or who bear the scars of routine for years before flaring out. In other words, real, true - infinitely more important.