Shame aka Skammen (Ingmar Bergman, 1968)
Through the 1950’s and 1960’s, Ingmar Bergman kept a pace of a film per year almost like a Woody Allen of its time. Nowadays, Allen is more of a hit or miss case with his more recent films. In the case of Bergman, it was more of a hit than a miss. The year of 1968 had a universal resonance in the cultural and social spheres. In France, it marked the events of May 68 with the firing of Henri Langlois co-creator of the institution of the Cinémathèque Française. Many socialist/communist/Maoist protestations blew everywhere and the world was at the edge of change and hope. It was also a great burst into conservatism and the fall of the established order of the world. Moreover, one must not forget that it was the year that the Vietnam War was at its worst. Bergman, used in his 1966 masterpiece Persona, the image of the protesting burning monk stating that war was horrible no matter what you are on. Well, with Shame it is quite clear that he wanted to develop this idea furthermore.
Ingmar Bergman’s film, Shame, depicts the life of a couple, the Rosenbergs, (Max Von Sydow and Liv Ullmann) during an unknown civil war in a place called Gotland. The couple of artists, musicians, are apolitical and they retreat to their rural island farm but when the rebels are countered they are captured as collaborators and the army bullies them. Later they get released and the rebel came back and it leads to its denouement.
This dividing film, some love it and some take it as a lesser Bergman, must be seized as a study on many levels and an even more complex analysis than the Vietnam critic many observers judged it to be.
First, it’s the tests that a loving couple must endure to face the civil war going on and how a couple gets to survive in its common obstacles. The woman who wants to have children and the man who doesn’t want to. The insecurities, the sacrifice one must do to get its liberty and stay alive. It is a work that a contemporary couple can relate with the more common concerns and the war-involving concerns tend to shake us from our distant peaceful world.
On another level, Shame works as a representation of the balance of power involved with war, authorities, civilians, man vs. woman, prisoner vs. warden, etc. In every situation humanity must face those balance of power and no matter the time, location, language, country, or race the sad pattern of war is relevant.
The war vehicle that Bergman conducts in Shame is how humanity must be humiliated and that every civilian must “feel” and understand in its comfortable home and movie theatre how horrible those conflicts are inflicting thousands, if not, millions of shameful acts and even more importantly individual upon itself.