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Genre: War Drama (Sweden)
Starring: Max von Sydow (The Seventh Seal • The Exorcist), Liv Ullmann (Cries & Whispers • Hour of the Wolf)
Directed By: Ingmar Bergman (Wild Strawberries • Fanny and Alexander)
Overview: A married couple’s relationship is taxed and tested by war on their secluded island.
The story of a man and wife who are no longer in the honeymoon passions of love isn’t a new one. Neither do I recall it as a frequent subject of cinema. Yes, extreme versions of this scenario can be seen weekly in B-grade Thrillers where one spouse conspires with their love affair to do the other in, but I’m not talking about that. Shame explores a couple who are probably more “in a rut” than in love, and they aren’t out to destroy each other. Like most people in a marriage, they trust and depend on one another, perhaps with some apathetic detachment, but they still have their moments. Such a story fundamentally doesn’t entice me, it’s a common drama, an everyday situation really, and a story that could only be made alluring by adding some cataclysmic event – enter an unnamed civil war and it’s uncivil players. In this extreme context, our couple is pushed to the limit of their love, of their personality, and, yes, of their shame, or perhaps more aptly, a resignation of indifference to a point where our characters become shameless, without any consideration for their “better” half.
Set on a secluded island while an unknown war, spoken of for months, finally reaches their shores begins. The implication is that it is a civil war and both sides battle around our helpless characters, Jan (Max von Sydow) and Eva (Liv Ullmann). Being without telephone and radio helps isolate us and them from the politics and ideology of the fighting, reducing the events into degrees of malevolence versus compassion. If this sort of thing is interesting to you, I would guess that Ingmar Bergman did a very decent job of it with our average couple stuck in the middle. Still, I couldn’t find myself enamoured by the plot. As character studies go it’s honest, ever taking the scene’s current mood and situation into consideration for the actions of our lovelorn duo. Where Jan would normally be languid about something, he becomes enraged, committing acts in front of his wife that demonstrate clearly that he’s acting with self-interest, that he’s doing in spite of, or worse, because of his mate. He’s not alone though, Shame is wonderfully good at tossing the abuse around, with Eva sharing an equal portion of the blame.
Shame is a subtly nuanced film about the personalities of two people made dramatic by their war-torn state, and as we watch their situation around them worsen, their actions aren’t predictable, which is refreshing. On the other hand, Shame’s forward, almost Adventure-plotted story constantly reminded me of 1985’s vastly superior Come and See (Idi I smotri), the tale of a young boy helplessly surrounded by war and the horrors that come of it.
For me though, Shame didn’t have that much shame, or perhaps even that much war for my liking. Regardless of how deep and rich the characters were, how believable their nuance, Shame droned on just a little too much.
Performance: 8 Cinematography: 8 Script: 7 Plot: 7 Mood: 7
Overall Rating: 74% (Not Such An Embarrassing Way to Spend An Evening)
This review was intended to be a fairly straightforward shrug of disinterest on my part, but as I wrote I couldn’t help but focus on a dynamic that many of you readers may find interesting. After being awestruck after the incredibly compelling tour-de-force that was The Seventh Seal, Shame couldn’t hold a candle to the Bergman I’ve learned to love.