Wednesday, August 23, 2006



Dir: Ingmar Bergman (The Passion of Anna; Autumn Sonata; The Magic Flute; Hour of the Wolf; Persona; Scenes From a Marriage; The Virgin Spring; Cries and Whispers; Fanny and Alexander; Wild Strawberries)

Bergman does a film about war, and Ron wallows in his own shame. How sad it must be for him that the director can make such relevant and interesting films and yet Ron's puny intellect cannot fathom them? I won't repeat the phrase that he recently used in an email to me in reference to Bergman, but take my word that it speaks to Ron's poverty of the soul.

How can Shame be simultaneouly one of the best studies of war I have ever seen and yet not quite up to par with the rest of the man's catalogue? Well, being an unparalelled genius has something to do with it. Max von Sydow stands in for all of us as a civil war at first strips him of his identity and then recasts him in cruelty and hatred. Without a doubt this is the most angry and violent Bergman film I have seen. It is also the most political. But since the subject is the universal experience of war on the human psyche, it is not an anti-Vietnam or anti-fascist film per se. He deftly keeps the political persuasions of the two sides in the conflict in the dark. The common people have no ideological stake in the outcome; they are simply caught between two cruel and indiscriminate armies who both use terror and death to acheive their aims. The ending scenes are indelible, cold and harsh and real and poetic and tragic, using imagery alone to showcase the effect of war on humanity.

As if often the case with him, Bergman uses an interpersonal relationship to highlight larger points. The disintegrating marriage of von Sydow and Liv Ullmann is the result of loss of masculinity. von Sydow cowers and cries at the slightest criticism, is unable to use his hands to fix things or kill animals for food. He breaks down under the weight of the looming conflict. Once the war comes to his house, he finds that parties have taken sexual possession of his wife. At that point, the man is remade, a cold and selfish killer. This is a cycle of violence narrative at its most artistic and compelling, a psychological study like only this genius can articulate.

And yet, for all of these high points, I was not as moved by Shame as many of the man's other works. I think it is a product of the subject matter. I have seen this theme explored many times before; never in this way, mind you, and never with this skill, but the emasculating effects of violence are familiar ground. Bergman's other great works have a novelty to them that combines with his skill (and those of the actors) to create genuinely unique and exciting films. In Shame, Bergman stands with other giants in solidarity around a common Orwellian theme.

This is not a reason to avoid the film, of course. Shame, like all other Bergman films, is essential viewing and an expression of human truth. No self resepcting student of cinema can avoid it. The fact that some on this blog express so much ignorant malice toward the man is a hallmark of how often so-called intellectuals fail to profess anything of importance.