1960s, 4/4, Bergman, Review


Image result for shame 1968 movie poster

#15 in my Ranking of Bergman’s Best Films.

Ingmar Bergman never did a war movie, and his films were largely outside of contemporary political concerns, so when he made Shame in 1968 during the Vietnam War, it feels kind of like Bergman is finally tackling the “real world”. I saw this movie once before in college, and the professor pretty much framed the film that way, and it’s an easy read of the film, but I think far too easy. Removed from its contemporary concerns, I think it’s easy to see the more permanent thematic concerns more clearly.

The movie is about two people caught up in a war, and I can’t help but feel that our couple (Jan and Eva) are, in some limited way, proxies for Bergman. He was a personal director who input his personal life into his films all the time, so it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch.

Jan and Eva are former musicians living in a remote house in the rural parts of Sweden as a war of indeterminate nature swirls around them. We get no sense of why the two sides in the war are fighting, whether it be ideological or what potential ideologies there could be at play. It’s so outside of their concerns of selling berries, trying to reclaim some vestiges of their previous lives, and maintaining friendly relations with the people around them, that when the war comes literally to their doorstep and one side tries to use them for propaganda purposes, neither Jan nor Eva have any idea what they could say in support or condemnation of either side. They play dumb because they are dumb about the matters, and yet they can’t escape the conflict that they want nothing to do with.

As with most Bergman films, the characters are so wonderfully written. They have inner lives with desires that extend beyond the borders of the film. They have dreams and feel like actual people caught up in the events of the film, so that as we watch Jan and Eva’s relationship deteriorate and they each harden through their experiences in different ways, it all feels so natural and even inevitable. Jan becomes violent, awkwardly taking up guns to commit violence against people he was unable to accomplish against a mere chicken at the beginning of the conflict. Eva, on the other hand, refuses to give into the violence, but she grows more distant to Jan, watching on in horror as he becomes more brutal as she determines to become more independent of him. She even starts an affair with the local mayor that helps them secure more consumables in a time of rationing.

I don’t think that the movie is a call against war, I think it’s a call to leave Bergman alone in all this war stuff. He just wanted to spend his time in Sweden making movies about topics that mattered to him, and the war didn’t matter to him artistically. If it did, he would have made movies about Vietnam explicitly, instead he made a movie about two artists where the war comes to them. It has to be a metaphor for Bergman’s artistic output.

Netflix Rating: 5/5

Quality Rating: 4/4

2 thoughts on “Shame”

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