Among music lovers, no one is too much against versions (even full albums), but for some reason, the same does not happen among those who love or analyze film and television: in these fields, the idea of remake seems to imply a failure of the imagination, the end of days, perhaps something worse. And if you try to touch a sacred cow, you speak of sacrilege at the very least. We have all fallen into that kind of judgment at times, although there are remakes superior to the original (see and review The Thing) and new readings of old texts should never be too much.
Also, there are ideas and remake ideas. The worst are becoming less common: those that are based on taking recent material and speaking it in English because in the United States they do not like subtitles. Secrets of a marriage is another story. It has been almost half a century since Ingmar Bergman’s original miniseries (condensed as a film for the international market): enough time for a new reading to be different and interesting. In his five-episode miniseries for HBO (from Monday, September 13), Israeli Hagai Levi (creator of the original version of In Therapy) explores the same themes (love, marriage, abortion, fidelity, bourgeois unhappiness) from a contemporary perspective and with logical changes in gender roles and expectations.
Explore the same themes (love, marriage, fidelity, bourgeois unhappiness) from a contemporary perspective
Some things do not change: Levi, for example, also considers that a (almost) 10th wedding anniversary is a good time for self-examination and crisis. At the beginning of the first chapter, Jonathan (Oscar Isaac) and Mira (Jessica Chastain) also struggle to find the words to define themselves, in this case answering the questions of a doctoral student (Sunita Mani) focused on a thesis on “how changing gender norms affect monogamous marriages.”
Without going into too many spoilers (because Secrets of a Marriage, like the original, is a thriller with all the laws), we will say that the characters and their role in the plot have changed remarkably. Well, just a few strokes: Jonathan is considerably less cocky and narcissistic than Erland Josephson’s Johan; good father and companion, unlike that one; with some neuroses stemming from his Jewish religious upbringing, but (mostly in his mind) a nice person.
The weight of the domestic
Mira does not reduce herself, as Liv Ullmann’s Marianne did in the beginning, to the roles of wife and mother. High executive of a technology company, she is the one who really brings bread to the table. If once the burden of domesticity fell only on Marianne, here most of it is taken by the philosophy teacher Jonathan, who, having more flexible hours, takes care of their little daughter, Ava (Lily Jane), during the week .
At the level of structure and plots, Levi follows Bergman quite closely, even respecting the title of the episodes. In the initial Innocence and Panic, Mira and Jonathan also welcome a married couple who are going through a difficult streak: Corey Stoll and Nicole Beharie play Peter and Katarina from the Swedish original, later recovered by Bergman in From the Life of the Puppets. And it also deals with the unexpected pregnancy of the protagonist.
The miniseries, as it happened with the original and with the film, is a ‘thriller’ with all the laws
For some reason, Levi dispenses in his review of the second chapter, brilliantly titled The Art of Hiding Dust Under Furniture. It jumps directly to the most autobiographical episode of the original work, the one in which Johan announced that he had a lover and was going to Paris with her, as Bergman did with the journalist Gun Hagberg. “The interested party can find out what happened next by watching the third part of Secrets of a marriage,” wrote the director in his memoir Magic Lantern. The only difference is the description of Paula, the mistress. Gun was almost its polar opposite.
Especially if one overcomes the aforementioned misgivings towards remakes and teacher reviews, Secrets of a marriage, version 2021, it is revealed as a painful pleasure. Probably the most adult, dark, complex and sexed television drama about relationships since Tell me you love me, a semi-hidden HBO classic of already Bergmanian influences. Although Levi plays with the conscience of the artifice showing the own filming of his series, these long discussions resonate and leave echoes. The dramatic and sensual hand-in-hand of Isaac and Chastain, reunited seven years after The Most Violent Year, reaches heights of true shock.