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‘Marriage’ stories: Ingmar Bergman vs. HBO’s Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain drama

Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac look at each other in HBO's "Scenes from a Marriage"
Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac in HBO’s “Scenes from a Marriage,” adapted from Ingmar Bergman’s 1973 miniseries. Does the update work?
(Jojo Whilden / HBO)

Scenes from a ‘Marriage’ review

Scenes of a marriage
“Scenes From a Marriage, 1973: Erland Josephson and Liv Ullmann starred in Ingmar Bergman’s series.
(Sunset Boulevard / Corbis via Getty Images)

After reading theater critic Charles McNulty’s review of HBO’s “Scenes From a Marriage” [“Remake Fails ‘Marriage’,” Sept. 26], I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

The recent version was not supposed to be a copy of Ingmar Bergman’s original. No two original paintings can be alike and no two performances can be the same. Just ask any actor who does the same play every night.

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I found the union between Mira and Jonathan completely believable. I thought the performances were some of the best I’ve seen in a very long time. Kudos to these two excellent actors and the people who created their version of this marvelous show.

Linda Cooper
Studio City

Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac embrace in the HBO limited series "Scenes From a Marriage"
“Scenes From a Marriage,” 2021: Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac in the HBO adaptation of the Ingmar Bergman original.
(Jojo Whilden / HBO)

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I agree with McNulty that the HBO “Scenes From a Marriage” is inferior to the Bergman film, but how could it not be? The question is why remake this at all?

One of the most compelling moments for me in the original was the tight close-up on Marianne’s face as Johan tells her about his infidelity. Confusion, disbelief and surprise are all revealed in Liv Ullman’s face, without a shred of pushing for any effect at all.

In the U.S. version, Oscar Isaac is a really wonderful actor, but his beard prevents me from seeing the full range of emotional flux that I so appreciated from Liv.

I know that for the professor the beard comes as standard equipment, but it robs Oscar of an actor’s tool, especially for the camera.

In “Saraband,” Bergman’s last film, we see Marianne and Johan 30 years later. It is a poignant and very sad coda to “Scenes.” But it resonates with some of the earlier work in a surprising way. I recommend it highly.

Robert Trebor
Los Angeles

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I couldn’t disagree with McNulty more in his dismissal of HBO’s “Scenes From a Marriage.” The mistake he’s making is to compare it to the original by the idolized Bergman.

I saw the original at the time and I’ve seen the remake in real time. They are written for different times and cultures.

The original was simply a launching pad for the remake. Taking the remake on its own terms, it makes coherent sense and the acting is outstanding, especially Jessica Chastain who goes from a numb passivity to a passionate expression of rage. She’s like an erupting volcano.

When I saw the original I was young and new to marriage and I think the drama left me perplexed and not really getting it (which was the effect Bergman often had on me). Now I am seasoned and in an old and mature marriage and I can see all the pitfalls the couple in the remake failed to overcome.

Bravo to all involved in HBO’s brilliant remake, which makes sense in our times now.

Pam Malone
Leonia, N.J.

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McNulty said it all. Leave our Bergman alone.

David Williams
Vista

Why an actor left the spotlight

Karen Olivo
Tony-nominated actress Karen Olivo left Broadway earlier this year as a political act. She was photographed in Madison, Wisc., on Sept. 22.
(Lianne Milton / For The Times)

Regarding “Passing on the Tonys” [by Ashley Lee, Sept. 24]: Pre-pandemic, I was an actor in San Francisco doing regional theater. I was booked and blessed but in a perpetual hustle. Because I was so exhausted all the time, it was difficult to advocate for myself to production teams when I needed a break. I am still dealing with some physical injuries due to that hustle.

Eighteen months later, I’m still in the industry but working as a business manager. It gives me the opportunity to find ways to improve the entertainment world rather than contributing to the broken system as an actor with virtually no rights. Making art brings joy to others, but it should not destroy you.

As Karen Olivo is, I am now “trying to spend my time figuring out how I can be a better human, rather than how I can sing eight times a week. What role could be better than the one that I’m creating right now?”

Claire Pearson
Santa Ana

The art and the deal

A rendering of the Peter Zumthor design for LACMA's curvy new building.
A rendering of the Peter Zumthor design for LACMA’s curvy new building, which will cross Wilshire Boulevard.
(Atelier Peter Zumthor & Partner)

Christopher Knight’s column [“LACMA’S ‘L’ is for ‘Loser’,” Sept. 12] and Carolina A. Miranda’s architecture review of the Academy Museum [“A New Icon for L.A.,”Sept. 21] both note that LACMA and its CEO Michael Govan made a serious and costly error in judgment by essentially giving away the May Co. building.

It should be noted that Govan began courting his architect of choice, Peter Zumthor, not in 2008 but in 2006 before Govan accepted the job as LACMA’s CEO.

More serious errors of judgment continued as Govan allowed the original Pereira campus to fall apart. He cut Zumthor’s original extremely expensive design in half (losing valuable and needed exhibition space) and then tried to sell us on an improvised, new-style, ad-hoc and temporarily minded perennially rotating collection idea.

Not considering new strategies during COVID caused LACMA and its new building to be burdened with cost overruns, delayed openings and raises serious doubts about its future.

Imagine any CEO acting with such a personal animus and behaving in the same manner as Govan by hiding material facts from his shareholders while showing them inconsiderate behavior. Would he survive a required shareholder vote? Or would there be a necessary revolt?

Rob Hollman, Save LACMA
Valley Village


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