Scenes from a marriage
Translated by Zhang Weixing Edited by Justin Davis Photos courtesy of National Centre for the Performing Arts
In 2017, to mark Ingmar Bergman's 100th birthday, Safy Nebbou adapted the film Scenes from a Marriage into a dramatic performance.
In 1973, the famous 55-year- old Swedish director, Ingmar Bergman, drawing on his own experiences in four marriages, shot the film Scenes from a Marriage, which explores the disintegration of a marriage spanning a decade through plenty of dialogue and stage drama-like performances. In 2017, to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Bergman, famous French director Safy Nebbou adapted the film into a modern dramatic performance. It was staged the next year at the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) in Beijing. The drama surgically dissects married life and received favourable comments from the audience.
A Famous Director’s Masterpiece
In 1965, Bergman met actress Liv Ullmann when they were working on his film Persona, and they fell in love. They worked on 12 films together, lived together for five years and had a daughter. Ullmann gradually begin to find Bergman to be wilful and conceited, and their rapport decreased. She ultimately left Bergman. After that, Bergman wrote a television mini-series exploring the disintegration of the marriage between Marianne, a family lawyer specialising in divorce, and Johan, a lecturer in psychology, spanning a period of over 10 years. He drew on his own experiences, including his relationship with Ullmann. In 1973, the mini-series was condensed into the drama film Scenes from a Marriage, which caused a sensation, and helped make Bergman even more famous in film and television circles.
Bergman was born in Uppsala, Sweden in 1918. His father was Erik Bergman, a Lutheran minister and later chaplain to the King of Sweden, and Karin, a nurse who also had Walloon ancestors and who Ingmar found could be manipulative. Ingmar's father had strict ideas about parenting, which resulted in his childhood being somewhat unhappy. At the age of nine, Bergman traded a set of tin soldiers for a magic lantern. Within a year, he had created a private world with his new toy in which he felt completely at home. He fashioned his own scenery, marionettes and lighting effects. He created puppet productions of Strindberg plays and voiced all of the parts. When staying with his father who was preaching at the country church of Uppland, Bergman was fascinated by the church's mysterious world of low arches, thick walls, the smell of eternity, the coloured sunlight through the stained glass quivering above the strangest vegetation of medieval paintings and carved figures on ceilings and walls. His imagination was occupied by angels, saints, dragons, prophets, devils, humans... In 1937, Bergman entered Stockholm University College (later renamed Stockholm University) to study art and literature. He read the plays of Shakespeare, Strindberg and other playwrights and spent most of his time involved in student theatre. He wrote and directed plays and became a "genuine movie addict."
In 1944, Bergman left the university and became a professional director at Helsingborg City Theatre. Later, he transferred to Gothenburg City Theatre. He wrote the screenplay for Torment (a.k.a. Frenzy) the same year. The film was directed by Alf Sjöberg and criticises the cruel and oppressive conditions in Swedish high schools. In 1946, he wrote and directed his first film, which was Crisis, making his debut as a movie director.
In 1948, Bergman directed the drama film Music in Darkness, which was nominated for a Golden Lion Award at the 13th annual Venice International Film Festival. He also directed Port of Call later that year. In 1949, he directed Prison, Thirst and This Can't Happen Here. In 1952, Bergman began his six-year directing stint at the Malmö City Theatre. During this period, he directed the comedy films Secrets of Women (a.k.a. Waiting Women), Smiles of a Summer Night and other films. In 1957, he directed the drama film Wild Strawberries, which won the Golden Bear for Best Film at the 8th Berlin International Film Festival and was nominated for an Academy Award for Original Screenplay at the 32nd Academy Awards ceremony. Later, he directed many more films and won a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 35th annual Venice International Film Festival in 1971.
In 1975, Bergman was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature as a result of his achievements directing plays. In 1982, Bergman shot the drama film Fanny and Alexander, which involves 60 speaking characters and more than 1,200 extras. It is a historical period piece that combines tragic, comic and horror elements together. The plot focuses on two siblings and their large family in Uppsala, Sweden during the first decade of the twentieth century. The film won the Academy
Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1984 and was nominated for a Golden Lion Award at the 40th annual Venice International Film Festival. Bergman received two nominations at the 56th Academy Awards for the film, including Best Director and Best Original Screenplay.
In 2003, 84-year-old Bergman directed the drama film Saraband for Swedish television. This was the only film released in cinemas he directed after Fanny and Alexander more than 20 years earlier. In 2007, Bergman died in his sleep at age 89 in his home on the island of Fårö.
Bergman was born into a religious family in a city with many medieval remains and decorations. Growing up surrounded by religious imagery and discussion, he devoted many of his works to reproducing the serene and mysterious scenes he saw in murals. Throughout his life, Bergman was affected by the contradiction between the rigidity of a religious family and secular life. His films are permeated with gloominess, somewhat hard to understand, highly philosophical and contain many gloomy internal monologues. Bergman is noted for his versatile camerawork and for his fragmented narrative style, which contribute to his bleak depiction of human loneliness, vulnerability and torment. Scenes from a Marriage is a good example.
Disintegration of a Marriage
Scenes from a Marriage is known around the world. Bergman said: “Shooting Scenes from a Marriage only took me four months, but I felt as if I spent my whole life shooting it.” Liv Ullman was already divorced from Bergman when the film was shot. Ullmann continued to play a role in the film though and was the lead actress Marianne. Erland Josephson played the part of Johan and had worked with Bergman many times. He was familiar with his working style and requirements. Scenes from a Marriage was rehearsed, shot and produced more smoothly than Bergman had anticipated. Edited into a nearly three-hour film from a six- episode miniseries, the film won a Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1975.
Marianne and Johan are the main characters. They have two daughters and enjoy a happy, peaceful life in the beginning of the story. Their friends Peter and Katarina have a miserable marriage with each other. Marianne eventually finds that she is pregnant. It comes at a time when she is reconsidering her arrangements. She does not expect that Johan prefers to abort the child though. One day, Johan reveals to Marianne that he is having an affair with a younger woman named Paula. After this, Johan and Marianne begin to live separately. During this period, Marianne begins to grow into the situation, but Johan does not. Johan becomes listless and bad tempered during the act in which a divorce agreement is signed. Marianne has become an intelligent and capable woman. When discussing their divorce, they express their discontents. It is not until many years later that Marianne and Johan finally understand what love is.
Both of the couples in the film experience pain in their marriages. Personality defects such as dependence, lack of confidence, evasion, fanaticism and selfishness lead to many problems. Marianne's pain comes from her inability to perceive facts, which leads to her failure to notice Johan's real attitude towards wedded life. Johan becomes very tired of repeated daily matters, while Marianne always involves him in them. Some of the scenes in the film depict Johan's impatience before Marianne gradually realises her faults.
One of the interludes involves a peculiar divorce case undertaken by Marianne. An old woman, whose children have all married, wants to divorce her husband. She states that she has been thinking about it for fifteen years and that she could not bear living with her husband because they did not love each other. Her husband asked her to divorce him after their children grew up. Her husband was a kind person, so she agreed. Marianne feels shocked when she hears the story.
This film is a chamber film consisting of two interludes and six episodes. Each episode is in the form of a chamber drama and the dialogue is very important. It is incisive, concise, expresses the characters' feelings and their conflicts and changing psychology. It also fills in background information about the story. There are only a few characters depicted on screen in the film. Many others are mentioned though including their family members, friends, colleagues, doctors, lovers and their new partners.
Some of the dialogue in the film is very impressive. For example, Johan tells Marianne how he feels about their
that Pantagruel be tied with four large chains and his cradle be hooped with a mass of thick wooden strips. Yet in the end, Pantagruel still frees himself from the cradle. Later, his father sends him to school, where he does well.
As he matures, he travels to famous universities all over France, finally going to Paris to study grammar, ethics, rhetoric and arithmetic.
One day, Pantagruel comes across a man named Panurge and finds that he can speak different languages. From that moment on, the two become inseparable. Not long after, Pantagruel learns that the Dipsodes have invaded his land. With comrades at his side, he quickly leaves Paris to defeat the enemy. Victorious, he mobilises the residents of the land to successfully conquer the kingdom of the Dipsodes.
In the third volume, Pantagruel begins relocating some of his own people to the newly conquered Dipsody, intending to colonise the country. In order to better govern the country, he also establishes Panurge as a lord, giving him a generous salary. Unfortunately, Panurge's desire to hold costly banquets becomes a source of trouble. Though Pantagruel is satisfied with his compatriot's assistance, he politely persuades Panurge to change his spending habits, lest he never achieve great wealth. Panurge disagrees, believing happiness and health to be life's priorities. Panurge wants to marry but hesitates, worrying that his future wife will cheat on him. Therefore, he asks Pantagruel for advice. His friend is likewise without answer, so the two consult a book of fortunes in search of advice. As they do, Pantagruel finds the lines they read are all against Panurge. He then advises Panurge to hold counsel with a fool, for a madman knows better than the wise. The fool speaks gibberish and mentions the Holy Bottle, which is said to bear the answer. Pantagruel and Panurge thus decide to set off to find the Holy Bottle.
In the fourth volume, Pantagruel and Panurge seek the Holy Bottle, to determine whether Panurge should marry. On the fourth day after their departure, they make their way to the island of Medamothy under the guidance of a lighthouse. There they purchase rarities and strange animals and continue moving away from the equator.
As Pantagruel and his companions continue their travels, they come across a wide variety of lands and wonders. Among them are the “People who fast,” who live a life of greed and luxury, the island of Ruach, where people eat nothing but wind produced by different types of fans, and the island of PopeFigland, where the once rich and proud Gaillardets were reduced to slaves for mocking the image of the Pope when they once uttered, “a fig for it.”
Seeking the Holy Bottle and Do What Thou Will
In the final volume, Pantagruel and Panurge find the Ringing Island. There, where a noise like various bells ring across the land, Pantagruel and his
companions meet an old hermit in his hut at the bottom of a cliff. There they must fast for four days, as it is one of the fasting days of the island. When the days of fasting come to an end, the old hermit gives them a letter recommending them to the master of the Ringing Island. At the hermit's request, the island master treats Pantagruel and his entourage well, and the entourage is able to sail on.
Pantagruel and his companions then arrive at the realm of Entelechy. The land is strange; its queen can cure ailments by singing and feeds on abstract things like thoughts, ideas and images, rather than from food. Finally, after much travel, Pantagruel and his companions arrive in Lantern Land, where a fountain inside a temple spouts wine rather than water. Panurge is led to a chapel where he finds the long-awaited Holy Bottle. He hears a voice coming out of it, stating “Trinc” or “some drink.” This is the answer they have been seeking after all their difficulties.
The novel begins with drinking and merriment and ends in the same way. It can be said that such merry making is the most important theme throughout the complete novel. Gargantua's father is a hedonistic man who overindulges in drink and salted meat. Before Gargantua was born, he invites everyone to a feast and carouse. At the end of the novel when Pantagruel and Panurge find the Holy Bottle, the water they drink from the fountain also seems to tastes like wine.
In Gargantua and Pantagruel, Rabelais created the image of two giants, Gargantua and his son Pantagruel. More than being huge, they are wise, versatile, noble and moral, changing themselves and society through their own efforts. When the two giants finish their studies, they encounter an invasion by foreign enemies. Indeed, their actions and noble morality are mainly reflected in war.
From the day it was published, Gargantua and Pantagruel has entranced readers for centuries with its fabulous characters and absurd plots, occupying an unshakable position in the history of world literature. As Rabelais points out in his foreword, “in the perusal of this treatise, you shall find another kind of taste and a doctrine of a more profound and abstruse consideration, which will disclose unto you the most glorious sacraments and dreadful mysteries, as well in what concerns your religion, as matters of the public state, and life economical.” The code “Do What Thou Wilt” as described in the novel reflects the author's humanistic ideal.
Gargantua and Pantagruel created a new literary form for epic novels, broadening the capacity of literature to reflect reality and laying the foundation for the later development of novels that followed in its giant footprints. The adventures of the protagonist are used to develop the plot, while the writing focuses on portraying the characters. Panurge, the central figure in the last three volumes, became the first “typical citizen” in French literature. The most defining artistic feature of the novel is its use of exaggeration and satire, endowing each description with humour and irony. Believing that “laughter makes men human,” Rabelais drew on medieval farces and tales that featured both elegant humour and vulgar ridicule. In reviewing the author, Victor Hugo reflected “his burst of enormous laugher is one of the abysses of the spirit.” Rabelais mastered many foreign languages such as Latin and Greek and was versed in dialect and vernacular. He used the language spoken by ordinary French people as the linguistic basis of his novel, which was then an intriguing and unique approach in French literature.
Gargantua and Pantagruel has had tremendous impact on the world. In the 1950s, China began to study this worldfamous work. However, it was not until the 1980s that China conducted serious research on Rabelais and Gargantua and Pantagruel. Chinese versions of the works include Cheng Yuting's translation published by Shanghai Translation Publishing House in 1981, Bao Wenwei's translation published by the People's Literature Publishing House in 1983 and a translation by Yang Songhe, published by Yilin Press in 2002. All three versions made a high-level summary of the thoughts and art of Gargantua and Pantagruel and has its own emphasis. Famous contemporary scholars such as Nie Zhenzhao, Jiang Chengyong and Liu Mingjiu also recognised Rabelais's anti-feudal humanism and his artistic methods of exaggeration and irony. Liu Mingjiu proposed that Rabelais' exaggerated description of the physiology and natural qualities of the giants' births aimed to convey to readers his basic understanding of human beings, which referred to men's natural qualities and their nature to win. Zhao Weiwei suggested that Rabelais expressed his in-depth exploration of human nature and the value of human beings inspired people to fight for freedom, democracy, equality and individual liberation, and fully affirmed human desires alongside a just struggle for happiness and peace, which called for the birth of giants with perfect humanity that introduced a new status quo.
With his fascinating words, Rabelais brightly coloured the cultural movement of Renaissance, impressing readers with the image of his giants Gargantua and Pantagruel. Gargantua and Pantagruel is a monument in the history of French literature. It is also the banner of humanism and a shining literary light for France and the history of human thought.
A dramatic performance of Scenes from a Marriage at the NCPA in 2018
An illustrated picture from Gargantua and Pantagruel