This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”
In 1968, at the height of the Vietnam war, Ingmar Bergman made this angry and bleak film that was against all war, and argued that it didn't matter which side you were on. In 1966, in his "Persona," he had used the famous televised footage of a Vietnamese monk burning himself alive to shock an actress into ceasing all forms of speech. In the two years between, what had changed, so that he no longer took sides?
It is a question without an answer in "Shame," which does not deliver a message in any formal way, but simply offers people and their lives and leaves us to conclude what we choose. Both films star Liv Ullmann, his actress in nine films starting with "Persona." Her co-star is Max von Sydow, who had worked with Bergman since "The Seventh Seal" (1957). Ullmann and Bergman play a tortured couple, as they also do in "Hour of the Wolf" and "The Passion of Anna." In a strange sense, all three films are about the same couple; only their narrative changes.
They were once symphonic musicians. Now they live in a weathered house on an island, growing fruits and vegetables. Nothing in their house seems to work, including the radio, so they hear only distant rumors of a war that has been waged seemingly forever. Eva Rosenberg (Ullmann) is concerned with the danger to their lives and to her desire to bear children. Her husband Jan (von Sydow) believes the war will pass them by. Their serenity is interrupted by jet planes flying low over their house, the killing of a parachuting airman, the arrival of troops, their inquisition, and eventually their incarceration by the other side (which seems to be the local side, but loyalties are divided).
They are questioned harshly. A falsely doctored video of Eva is used against her. They are sent back to their home, only to witness its wanton destruction. Eva has sex with the colonel in charge (Gunnar Bjornstrand, who first worked with Bergman in a 1944 film he wrote, "Torment"). Does she do it to save them? Probably, but hard to say. Her own marriage is painfully uncertain. Later, Jan conceals money that could have bought the colonel's freedom from the other side. Does he do it to punish their adultery? Hard to say if he has actually witnessed it.