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The misfortune of the little things

Tearing down the fourth wall, opening a film so that the viewer is nosed that he is not dealing with real life but with a work of art, does not necessarily mean that his or her interest is waning . One remembers what happened in Lars von Trier’s “Dogville” with Nicole Kidman, which took place on a stage without a backdrop, on which houses and streets were painted on the floor with chalk. Rectangles. And yet the story of the humiliation and revenge of a refugee captivated one to the last shot. Reality is what you make of it.

In Hagar Levi’s update of Ingmar Bergman’s classic relationship box, “Scenes from a Marriage”, you can see the actors of the main characters at the beginning of the episode as they prepare for the shoot, for their roles. They are “scenes from a marriage”, the cinematic, artificial, spectator inclusion is already in the title. “This way”, an assistant with a corona mask says to Chastain, the actress takes a seat in front of a mirror, gets (important!) The wedding ring on, the “flap” announces the start of shooting, someone shouts “Action!” From off , and instantly from Chastain Mira, who checks her smartphone, looks sad, while music suggests to the viewer that he or she is not watching the shoot, but the finished film. After all, chamber musicians with piano and violin do not play the soundtrack live while a film is being made.

Happiness no longer seems to be all-embracing in Mira’s twelve-year relationship with Jonathan (Isaac), although the husband gives a different impression. Unlike Liv Ullmann’s and Erland Josephson’s characters, who were interviewed by a journalist in Ingmar Bergman’s original series “Scenes from a Marriage” (1973), Chastain and Isaac expose the relationship between the characters in front of a student who is collecting material for a work in gender studies.

Marriage is a matter of course for Jonathan, parenthood is burdened with guilt for Mira

Even in the “self-definition” Jonathan forgets to introduce himself as a husband, while Mira only mentions motherhood at the very end, as a sort of postdictum. While marriage is so natural for the former that he does not find it worth expressing, the career woman is clearly guilty of having to leave the active parenting part of the four-year-old daughter Ava to Jonathan, who is more flexible in terms of working hours, during the week.

Jonathan is sitting comfortably on the sofa, Mira is nervous. “Not a big sacrifice,” he says. “Academics don’t earn that much.” All of this is uncomfortable for her. She thought it was “multiple choice or something”, not that she had to tell in minute detail how – for example – everything started.

Back when Jonathan was still an Orthodox Jew who had never touched a woman before and was suddenly surrounded by students in tank tops at university. “Especially Mira, who was still with a big rock star at the time,” was further removed from his world than any other. Then Mira talks about her studies of Orthodox Judaism for a play. You had previously been in relationships that were abusive, Jonathan was the complete opposite.

Two scenes further the viewer and the viewer get married

Note: There are no flashbacks with Jonathan in a caftan at university or the first kiss of the two. At first there are only the interviewees on the sofa and their occasionally surprised reactions to the other person’s answers, occasional counter-shots at the friendly interviewer.

Here, too, Mira secretly checks her smartphone and the “all over” look creeps into her eyes. After eleven minutes and 37 seconds, the viewer has forgotten that they are looking at a play. Everything seems real when Jonathan complains about the “business”, when Mira is silent, evasive, when “monogamy” becomes the subject of the interviewer.

Mira confesses to having an affair with the CEO of a small start-up

Two “elevators” and time leaps further – an evening with a failed couple (Nicole Beharie, Corey Stoll), which can also be found at Bergman, and then the hesitant “recognition” of a second pregnancy – the protagonists’ marriage is already flying around the audience’s ears. Mira confesses to the affair with the CEO of a small start-up from Israel, which she wants to follow to Tel Aviv. She and Jonathan would never have spoken seriously about “abortion”. The farewell talk in bed is oppressive, blunt, tormenting, self-tormenting. He wants to see a picture of the rival.

She shows him one on her smartphone. He is 29, single, and “I’m in love with him, he’s good for me”. At the end of all his attempts at understanding she is “sick”. And: “You have to give me a chance!”

The reason to stay tuned after that early “explosion” is (for people who know the original) not the story. The biographies that Levi gives his characters are not that significantly different. Even 48 years after Bergman’s series, the presented marriage is classically white and heterosexual, so one could have been more original and, for example, address the failure of an ethnically diverse or homosexual marriage. Levi, experienced in telling relationship nuances in series since “The Affair”, sticks to his Bergman (and thus to his great predecessors Chekhov, Strindberg, Edward Albee) and is technically good at transferring to 2021.

Chastain and Isaac make every second worth seeing

The hesitant update is particularly worth seeing for many of Jonathan and Mira’s 40-year-old peers and potential problem-sharing partners. Only a very small number should have seen the Swedish classic. Old narrative styles, old-fashioned images nowadays unfortunately almost always lead to further zapping or streaming something else. The modern imagery draws today’s audience. And Chastain and Isaac make every moment of those five hours great, moving, depressing. Great show in the truest sense of the word.

That you don’t understand Mira’s motivation could be read in the first US reviews. What drives you to give up your family? It may be the silence of important things. And it may be overlooked that happiness can make you unhappy. That you can be annoyed by the satisfaction and comfort of your partner. That small quirks of the other person can turn into unbearable things. Like how Jonathan lined up all the tubes and bottles on the sink in the bathroom before going to bed.

“Why are you telling me that today?”, Jonathan wants to know. And Mira has no right answer to that. But we bet that the real trigger was watching him pull the spaghetti from the plate over the fork into his mouth.

“Scenes from a Marriage”, five episodes, by Hagar Levi, with Jessica Chastain, Oscar Isaac (from September 13, on Sky)



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