Sunday, September 10, 2006

Shame (1968)

I was with this film for about half its length (that is, up to the point where Max Von Sydow and Liv Ullmann are taken in for questioning and torture). Then, I think, Ingmar Bergman loses his inspiration, and what was once a penetrating study of individuals trying to make sense of chaos descends into yet another war-makes-animals-of-us-all nihilistic narrative. It's (if you'll excuse the inadvertent wordplay) a damn shame, too, because the first half of the film has some great stuff in it. Ullmann and Von Sydow work well together, and their hapless attempts to maintain their normal existence while inside the teeth of an apocalyptic war, eventually shading into confusion and terror, are compelling and affecting (the latter most potently in a scene where they share a bottle of wine with a merchant who's been called away to service). The occasional flash of crazed gallows humor (i.e. the 'propaganda' film) helps as well. (I do so enjoy it when Bergman exercises his rarely-seen sense of humor.) But everything falls apart when things stop blowing up -- Bergman begins to run in circles around material he's already plumbed (this film, ultimately, isn't saying anything different from The Silence), the characters become irrational beings behaving randomly and the film stops cold. Maybe that's the point; if so, I'm not impressed by the self-sabotage. The last line, a conscious echoing of the film's first exchange, smacks of a desperate last-ditch attempt to lend a thematic throughline and a coherence to a film that long since lost its bearings.

Grade: C


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