When the Swedish director died last week I was reminded of his 1968 film, Shame. In it Max Von Sydow and Liv Ullmann play Jan and Eva Rosenberg, two musicians who used to play for the local philharmonic orchestra before a war broke out, forcing them to retreat to a small plot of land on an island where they contentedly worked at a greenhouse.
Both the country and the island where they live are unnamed. (Shame was made on Bergman’s small island of Farö, just off the northern end of the Swedish island of Göttland.) Their nation has apparently been at war for some years with an invading country, or perhaps it has been engaged in a civil war with rebels from another province. This is all left deliberately hazy, as this war is meant to symbolize all wars.
Shame is a great film. It stands very highly in the Bergman canon, though it is disappointing to realize how few critics and viewers have really understood its complex message. Instead, they generally opt for the cheap, lazy, and easy claim of its being merely anti-war, and a rather simple work when compared to Bergman’s two showier predecessors. And that, in the long run, is the real shame of Shame.