Ingmar Bergman’s Shame – Skammen (1968)

Ingmar Bergman is one of those film directors I always meant to return to. I have always been impressed by his work. It’s not easy and often a bit depressing but always fascinating. Shame – Skammen is one out of three movies that form a trilogy always starring the same two actors Liv Ullmann and Max von Sydow. If you know Bergman well you know that Liv Ullmann was probably his favourite actress. The other two movies that are part of the trilogy are Vargtimmen -Hour of the Wolf and En passion – The Passion of Anna.

Shame is the only one of the three that you can call a war movie. Bergman is famous for his psychological portraits. He is far less interested in story than in character and Shame is no exception. The movie explores what happens to people during a war. How do they react? How far will they go to save themselves? Is there anything human left in them? The war depicted in Shame never took place but it is inspired by many that did.

Jan and Eva Rosenberg are two artists who live far away from anyone else on a farm. A civil war rages in the country they live in and that’s the reason why the left the city. They are completely apolitical and have no clue what is going on but are still deeply affected. Especially Jan is afraid. He is very nervous. When the war intensifies and comes closer he gets panicky. The country is threatened to be invaded by another country that will try to free the people and when it finally happens, the Rosenbergs are forced to give a fake interview that it is later used against them. They are lucky, Eva is an attractive woman and an officer takes an interest in her. If this hadn’t happened they would both have been tortured and executed. Despite this narrow escape, the war shows its effect anyway. Their relationship is getting worse every day, they fight and scream all the time.

I found the first half of Shame extremely interesting because the atmosphere and the type of war depicted didn’t seem typical for Western European countries and to see Jan and Eva entangled in it made for uncomfortable viewing. This is the type of almost dystopian setting we see in very modern movies, only stripped from any type of heroism. The people in this movie become smaller and meaner, the longer the war lasts. Nobody fights against the oppressor and most certainly nobody fights for anyone lese. It’s a very depressing depiction of humanity.

If you are interested in Bergman, it’s a must-see. If you are more used to American movies and movies with an emphasis on story over character, then it’s rather not for you. I can’t say I liked it (not like the Hour of the Wolf which I loved) because I didn’t like the two main characters but I did appreciate it.