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1968 / B&W / 1.33 flat full frame (on corrected disc) / 103 min. / Skammen 24.98
Starring Liv Ullmann, Max von Sydow, Gunnar Björnstrand
Cinematography Sven Nykvist
Production Designer P.A. Lundgren
Art Director Lennart Blomkvist
Editor Ulla Ryghe
Produced by Lars-Owe Carlberg
Written and Directed by Ingmar Bergman

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 violent non-sequitirs.

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 for Jan's 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 review of 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, Shame rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
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

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