The Ingmar Bergman film of the day is, “Shame” (Skammen).
The film stars Liv Ullman and Max von Sydow.
The film explores shame, stress, jealousy, self-loathing and anxiety through a politically unaware couple attempting to flee a war-ravaged European nation. Parts of “Shame” would be addressed in characters’ dreams in Bergman’s later film, “The Passion of Anna”.
The story follows a husband and wife (Jan and Eva) who, as a result of civil war, have moved away from society to a farm on a rural island. Their response to war has been escapist and they are mostly living in isolation (their radio and telephone do not work).
Jan has had a dream: “I dreamed we were back in the orchestra, sitting side by side, rehearsing the 4th Brandenburg Concerto, the slow movement, and that everything we have now we had behind us. We only remembered it like a nightmare. I woke up crying. I started to cry when we were playing.”
Their relationship is somewhat strained with their life on the island, continuously detaching throughout. Jan is more sensitive and cries frequently, while his wife, Eva, is more outwardly resilient and irritable.
The two of them visit the town, and hear a rumor that troops will soon come. The couple see various friends on this trip, as they procure wine and goods for themselves. The last of these meetings is with an older man who has been called to duty.
When they return, their farmhouse becomes the site of a bloody siege. Jan and Eva are rounded up by the invading force. They are interrogated on camera, and finally spared.
They are later interrogated by the other side of the war in a building with many other people from town. While the couple is interrogated, they are forced to watch the video of the previous interrogation which uses Eva’s image but falsifies with another voice which claims support for the invaders. This is primarily a scare tactic.
Eventually, they are released by Col. Jacobi. They are driven home, their relationship is considerably weaker and more hostile. Jacobi becomes a regular, if not uncomfortably constant, visitor who treats them with gifts but also has the power to send the couple to a work camp.
This relationship is manipulative, both Eva and Jan feel irritated and disgusted by it. Jacobi convinces Eva to provide him with sexual favors in exchange for his bank account savings, during the coercion, it is implied she has slept with him before for some monetary gain.
They go into the green house to have sex while Jan is resting. He wakes, calling Eva’s name. Eventually, he goes upstairs and finds Jacobi’s savings on the bed and begins to cry. Eva enters, Jacobi stays outside and turns to leave.
She harshly comments to Jan (now crying on the stairs beside the door) that he can continue sobbing if he feels it will help. Only a few moments have passed and soldiers have surrounded their home, they lead Jacobi back into the house. It is an investigation into Jacobi’s corruption.
The couple is questioned. Jacobi explains his freedom can be bought, as the side of the war who is here is in desperate need of money. Jacobi, the soldiers, even Eva, are asking where the money is. Jan states he does not know what money they are talking about. Because the money is not produced, the soldiers raid the house, destroying everything, lighting the remains on fire.
They hand Jan a gun to execute Jacobi. He does. This turning point in the film shows Jan as someone who can lie and kill, which is a dramatic character change.
After the soldiers leave, Jan reveals he had the money in his pocket, to Eva’s disgust. This has split their relationship irreparably and causes repeated break downs. The relationship grows silent and cold.
When Jan and Eva meet a young soldier, Eva wants to feed him and allow him to sleep. Jan violently takes him away to shoot and rob him. There is evidence of severe emotional detachment in both characters.
Eva follows Jan towards the sea, and he uses the money from Jacobi in order to buy them seats on a fishing boat. While at sea, the boats motor fails. The man steering the boat kills himself by lowering himself overboard. The boat later finds itself stuck in the middle of floating dead bodies, unable to move forward and continue.
As the film closes, Eva tells Jan of her dream: she walks down a beautiful city street with a shaded park, until planes come and set fire to the city and its rose vines. She and Jan have had a daughter, who she is holding in her arms. They watch the roses burn, which she states “wasn’t awful because it was so beautiful”. A final remark as she lies thirsty in the bottom of the boat is ” I knew there was something I should remember. Something one of us had said, but which I had forgotten. I started to cry as I remembered.”
Some interesting trivia about this magnificent film, “Shame”:
The couple formerly played in an orchestra, so they have a framed picture of composer Richard Wagner on their wall.
Pauline Kael reviewed the film in The New Yorker in December 1968. She was an admirer of the film : “Shame is a masterpiece, – a vision of the effect of war on two people, – but – it is full of characters and incidents – in many ways, [it is] Bergman’s equivalent of Godard’s “Week End” – also an account of what people do to survive – Liv Ullmann is superb in the demanding central role, – Gunnar Björnstrand is beautifully restrained as an aging man clinging to the wreckage of his life. The subject is our responses to death, but a work of art is a true sign of life.”
Celebrating Ingmar Bergman’s Films!