Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage shook the world – and spiked divorce rates. Could the remake, with Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac, be even more controversial? Its director Hagai Levi bares all
In 1973, Ingmar Bergman released Scenes from a Marriage. The seminal Swedish TV series saw a luminous Liv Ullmann and a tortured Erland Josephson play Marianne and Johan, whose marriage is deliquescing with the most elegant ugliness. Their pain is exquisite and their liberation hard-won, but it is – in the end – a victory for authenticity. For these perfect people are trapped by convention.
“It was very political and very revolutionary,” says Hagai Levi, the Israeli director who has just remade the series for HBO, with Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac in the lead roles. “And very outrageous! Back then, even the word ‘divorce’ was shocking.” In Bergman’s series, the couple are crushed by the weight of their own seeming perfection, the relinquishment of which makes it feel so emancipating, and so novel. This was not an Ibsen rehash, a Doll’s House message (“it’s OK to leave bad people”) but something much more seismic, in the 70s at least. Even though Johan is the jerk who takes off, the point is: sometimes neither party is bad – they are simply not themselves until they part.