Saturday, January 14, 2023


What's a Determinist? / The Thick of It

The usual Bergman credit typeface, Optima, has been replaced with a serif-font; the 'regular world' has been scrambled and broken. As Michael Sragow writes in his essay in the Criterion Ingmar Bergman's Cinema volume, "Shame [Skammen, 1968]'s white opening credits unspool on a black screen as machine guns and artillery fire punctuate polyglot scraps of newsreels and broadcasts. This audio mélange is the opposite of white noise. It signals that the war is closing in on [the weakling] Jan (Max von Sydow) and Eva (Liv Ullmann). We feel their alienation in our bones. The movie picks up on the couple shortly before warplanes firebomb the forest, paratroopers drop from the air, and shock troops swarm in from the sea. Eva is already beginning to lose patience with Jan's pettiness and escapist nostalgia." There is a clipped manner of tongue and language while Jan eats his breakfast ravenously, as happens in European films.

Shame represents a semi-sequel to The Hour of the Wolf; politically, goes further than Persona in its explicit anti-war sentiment, in which the dark night of the soul spills its obscurity over into the physical realm: planes flying overhead executing bombing maneuvers, a paratrooper caught hanging from a tree, no longer anything but a corpse. All this brings to mind the shadow-invasion of The Silence with its convoy of tanks en route to where and wherefore? Shame resembles an oozing puddle whose boundaries expand to cover significant ground: the picture is a portrait of all wars, invasions, civil strife; of secret, cold wars. Look at the names of the principals: don't Jan and Eva Rosenberg bring to mind Julius and Ethel Rosenberg? Doesn't Jacobi (Gunnar Björnstrand) strike the near-identical physiognomy of William Faulkner? A shattered twentieth century. Two ex-violinists, the Rosenbergs (fiddling away in the world-as-prison-camp), of whom Bergman in an interview opined, "They understand nothing." Two sides of the manuscript: no politics but the freedom to live and be stupid. The musical 'score' (Bergman insisted that there be no 'score' per se) is like a banging on windowpanes from the outside.

The final words of the film are pronounced by weary Eva. "...something someone said — but I've forgotten what it is." 


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