The HBO miniseries Secrets of a Marriage has a complicated commitment. It is the new version of the cult classic directed by Ingmar Bergman. Also from the umpteenth time trying to realistically explore relationships.
Between the two, the production starring Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain must find its own identity. Do it also through the complexity of the small invisible pains and the constant perception about disenchantment in love.
The series achieves all of the above and takes the audacity to innovate on an argument considered foundational in the dramatic genre. Directed by Hagai Levi (In Therapy), the miniseries is a tribute to a deep insight into emotions.
From the prologue, an elegant sequence shot that introduces the viewer into the world of the characters, Secrets of a marriage tells intimacy. Levi’s prodigious ability to delve into the psyche of his characters is essential in the production.
‘Secrets of a marriage’ and the daily tragedy
Secrets of a Marriage is much more interested in indefinable moments like bedroom conversations or bittersweet little squabbles than in something larger. And it’s that sense of the tiny that makes the HBO series evade the platitudes.
The intelligent background of the moral, the painful and the stark of life in common is present as a latent idea. The series skilfully avoids it being the only thing the plot stands on. For its first two chapters, it is clear that the dialogue that begins with small simple confessions is the prelude to something else. The memory, which Levi uses with elegance and firmness, gives the series a feeling of constant evolution.
Nothing is identical in the collection of common, everyday and heartbreaking moments that Secrets of a marriage shows. And that succession of small, but significant, are of a radiant beauty. Levi makes the camera witness to a circumstance that anyone can identify with. A look of powerful sweetness and at the same time a moving bitterness on the life together of so many modern couples.
The pain behind closed doors
In 1973, the Swedish miniseries Secrets of a marriage revolutionized the world of television. Starring actors Liv Ullmann and Erlend Josephson as Marianne and Johann, the series was an experiment. The long and harrowing account of the life together of a lawyer and a psychology professor shocked at its honesty. Bergman, moreover, gave him a profound condition of unclassifiable element with his touches of drama, psychological analysis and even a refined humor.
In the end, the result was so successful that the series was released as a feature film. It was in this way that it was released in North America and became a reinvention of dramatic language.
Winner of the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film, the story ended up becoming foundational to understanding the sense of cinematic intimacy. Beyond that, it is an elaborate and subtle journey through love, emotions and the disenchantment of coexistence.
Levi uses the same Bergman formula to show the slow but steady erosion of a marriage. There is no clear reason why Mira (Jessica Chastain) and Jonathan (Oscar Isaac) ‘s relationship is doomed. But it is. The series does not attempt to show simple answers. In its first chapters it is limited to contemplate with attention the love and mutual concern that the characters still share. But love seems to have vanished in the pressure of everyday life in an awareness of identity and fear of loneliness.
Secrets of a marriage, the end of hopes
Levi, a master of the close-up, uses the camera as an observer that becomes more uncomfortable as the chapters progress. It is of considerable importance to the director to show why a decade-long relationship collapses. But he does not use the usual resources of arguments or insistent tension to show the pain. Chastain shows off his ability to create and sustain characters with deep inner worlds. Isaac creates perhaps the most painful face of separation: a deep litany of unease.
By the time Secrets of a Marriage reaches its most dramatic point, silence fills everything. And that is perhaps the most harrowing way to understand the end of a deep, honest and painful breakup that is seen from the first scene.