Also available in The Ingmar Bergman Special Edition DVD
Collection Boxed set (112.96, street date April 20, 2004), with
Persona, Hour of the Wolf, The Passion of Anna and The Serpent's Egg.
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Many Bergman films of the 60s blame a vague intellectual sickness for the psychic anguish of
his main characters. He often uses photos or television newreels of war-related atrocities in far
countries or from the past to create unease. The alienated disaffection in The Silence is
contrasted with an endless parade of military vehicles in the streets, alluding
to an unspoken threat from without.
The husband and wife of Shame don't need excuses to have nervous breakdowns, as they're caught
in the path of a real war. An okay couple with some hope for sanity discovers that the experience of
war doesn't inspire them to become stronger or reveal hidden moral reserves. One of
the best movies ever about what war really means, Shame is another in a string of great
Ingmar Bergman efforts.
With armed conflict threatening, concert musicians Eva and Jan Rosenberg (Liv Ullmann and
Max von Sydow) hole up on their small farm and hope it will blow over. They bicker and argue, but
go into shock when troops invade. They're used for propaganda by one side, and later accused of
collaboration by the other. But that's nothing compared to the personality changes they undergo
amid the pressure and worry. Both betray the other in different ways, until their values and
identities are lost.
They brood and fuss, but Eva and Jan don't have any great flaws that make them stand out as a
couple in trouble. They share a harmonious profession, in fact. But the events that overtake them
are as relentless and unfeeling as any of the "existential" maladies that cripple other Bergman
protagonists. The couple has retreated to an island farm to sit out the unpleasantness of a
threatened war. Their complacency is undercut by doubt and fear as their entire island district is
overrun by troops. People are being shot and neighboring farms are destroyed in a Kafka-like series of
The war is represented by a few explosions and some fast-flying jets, which by Bergman standards is
big-scale action movie content. The actual contact with troops is disturbingly modern - instead of
being shot or raped, the Rosenbergs are pushed in front of a television camera for interviews. Their
confused words are later dubbed with partisan accusations against the other side. When the loyalist
forces retake the area, they're summarily rounded up as hostile collaborators. Other prisoners are
being killed without any evidence at all, and the fact that the altered newsreel film is clearly
a fake doesn't help them. There's no logic in the blind terror of war.
The Rosenbergs are apolitical, which to Bergman translates as "complacents" - people who claim no
stake in politics but still want things to stay secure and comfortable in their personal lives. Hence
they quickly gravitate
to and compromise themselves for, a local man capable of showing them favoritism. Colonel Jacobi
(Gunnar Bjönstrand) ingratiates himself by bringing food, promising an end to
official harassment. He has an implied interest in Eva that isn't very pleasant, but both Eva and
Jan are willing to appease him. It's a logical choice, but the Rosenbergs aren't the kind of couple who can
play those games and still respect each other. Eva eventually sleeps with Jacobi almost out of contempt
lack of decisiveness. In a later, terrible scene, Jan is prompted by vengeful troops to participate
in an atrocious killing - which he does, obviously channeling his jealousy and spite. Jan and Eva
become strangers to one another, emotional enemies.
Using no games of ambiguity or cinematic tricks, Shame can afford to be direct and ruthless with
its imagery. Jan
and Eva stagger through the last reels, he shutting out everything he sees, she becoming more morose
with each new misery. At last they elect to leave the island in a rowboat with some other refugees, trading
in their "island of retreat" for a naked little wooden island in a sea filled with floating bodies. It's a
simple but powerful image, and for once, the unresolved ending of a Bergman film feels completely right.
MGM's DVD of Shame is the second title that held up the earlier release of the boxed set (see the
Hour of the Wolf for some comment on that).
Slightly masked at 1:66, I wasn't aware of any unacceptable cropping, although I do remember the film
looking very boxy and full-framish when I saw it in the early 70s.
The B&W photography is excellently reproduced, looking far better than it had on television broadcasts
and earlier VHS releases. There's no murk in dark scenes and Sven Nykvist's careful gradients always
add to the gritty feel of the events.
Liv Ullmann's interview is just as revealing as the ones she contributes to the other discs in the
collection. The short docu is not particularly well organized. At the end it takes an unfortunate
detour from Bergman and the film to current events, allowing some Ullmann comments about the warlike
posture of "a certain president" to muddy the water. Sure, Shame is as relevant now as ever,
but we were not expecting editorializing, and a few random comments don't add up to a coherent protest.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Supplements: 2nd English audio track, Commentary by Bergman biographer
Marc Gervais, The Search for Humanity featurette, Interview with Liv Ullmann,
Photo gallery, trailer
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: April 1, 2004
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson