• Festivals

Venice Reports: “Scenes from A Marriage” (2021)

Alongside the big-screen debuts of 22 feature-length films (and 14 short films) at the 78th Venice Film Festival, television also had its presence felt with the premiere of HBO’s five-part limited series, Scenes from a Marriage. The project is a modern adaptation of the 1973 Swedish series by six-time Golden Globe winner Ingmar Bergman, with Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac in the lead roles.

The show closely examines the crumbling marriage between Jessica Chastain’s Mira, a confident tech executive, and Oscar Isaac’s Jonathan, a philosophy professor who is desperate to keep their relationship intact – but there are some key differences between the 1973 project and the 2021 version of the story. In the latest adaptation, Mira is the breadwinner. She is the person in the relationship who says she wants to leave. In the 1973 story, it was the man (played by Erland Josephson).

Speaking about the gender switch at the Venice Film Festival press conference, Golden Globe winner Jessica Chastain explained: “I am really excited about looking at the film in terms of gender roles because if you look at the original, it looks at the gender roles for that time period. This one explores gender roles in a relationship in the current time period in terms of salary, in terms of who is supporting the family, in terms of what it means to be a mother and a woman’s relationship to sex; all of these things. That’s what is so exciting to me about reexamining Scenes from a Marriage today because I think the piece really allows you to look at what it meant to be a wife and mother in that time, and what it could mean also in this time in terms of fertility. There are so many aspects of this that I think are going to be exciting for people to see.”

Scenes from a Marriage is Oscar Isaac’s third project to be shown at this year’s Venice Film Festival. The Golden Globe winner was also in town to support his work on Paul Schrader’s The Card Counter and the Denis Villeneuve sci-fi behemoth Dune. “It has been a wild festival, but luckily they have been so kind to line it up so that I can do one night after the next,” the actor told the press room. “It’s been really fun. I will say I was a little overwhelmed at the prospect of coming out and how I was going to find the energy because I am also in the middle of shooting something in Budapest. But it’s actually given me a lot of energy being out here and getting to share these projects with everybody after holding on to them for such a long time.”

Chastain and Isaac first met 20 years ago at Manhattan’s Juilliard School, where they were both drama students. They’ve remained friends ever since, which dials into the chemistry needed for their roles. “We would joke how it’s a blessing and a curse,” explained Chastain, with a smile. “It’s a blessing because there’s immediate trust and you don’t have to get to know each other. We can be completely honest about everything. But also, the difficult thing is sometimes you need a break from it and we also got to the point where we were reading each other’s minds. I was, like, ‘Get out of my head!’ On this job, you just really felt that there was no quiet time.”

During the press conference, it was revealed that the family of Ingmar Bergman – who sadly passed away in 2007 – were fully supportive of the project, which also has the backing of The Ingmar Bergman Foundation. Scenes from a Marriage writer, director and executive producer Hagai Levi admitted he was directly approached by Ingmar Bergman’s son Daniel about working on the project. Levi (who won a Golden Globe award for co-creating and co-producing The Affair) recalled: “I was excited and frightened at the same time, but I knew I had to crack it. I had to do it.”