Ingmar Bergman's death earlier this week left us with a bigger loss than any average obituary is going to be able to address. There wasn't one masterpiece, there was at least a dozen, and in all sides of the performing arts, too: TV mini-series, comedy, concert films, tragedies, allegories. Shameis one Bergman film that desperately needs a revival. Pauline Kael accurately described it as not just one of his greatest films, but one of his least known. And it couldn't be more timely. The shame of the title of Bergman's 1968 film refers to the humiliation of war, how it opens up the cage inside a human and lets the gorilla out. We get war movies by the gross lot, but what always gets bypassed is the civilian view: that's too much for the gentle viewer.
Bergman's story is of an imaginary war in "1971", with a long-lived civil conflict hitting a rural Swedish island. The director hired ten military advisers for Shame, and it's a very literal, conventional war. There's no allegory to speak of in the way it goes down. It's an Everywar, complete with bombardments, armored cars, partisan activity and collateral damage. "This is just degrading, ordinary old war," Kael wrote in Going Steady, "and it takes a while before we realized that Bergman has put is in the position of the Vietnamese and all those occupied people we have seen being interrogated and punished and frightened until they can no longer tell friend from enemy, extermination from liberation."Jan (Max von Sydow) and Eva (Liv Ullmann) experience a war just like so many millions have: on the ground, in the dark, caught between hostile forces fighting over an ideology that doesn't concern them. Eva says: "Yesterday our radio threatened the most awful things. This morning, their radio answered, congratulating us on our imminent destruction. It's all utterly incomprehensible."