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THERE IS enough evidence to convince the most benighted of critics that Ingmar Bergman is an artist of massive integrity, possessing an acuity that equals that of the very best novelists and poets of our time, and a fearless honesty of both subject matter and technique that separates him from his contemporaries in film. His latest effort, Shame, and the earlier Seventh Seal very possibly could render him, along with Gunter Grass among novelists and John Berryman among poets, one of the eminences of art of this century. His new film concerns itself with difficulties of a young couple living on an island who suffer through war, invasion, and the proliferating horrors of their plight. It is the most powerful movie, with the possible exception of Freaks, that I have ever seen, and in its super-realistic portrayal of war, it is a superlatively sensible and real indictment of organized fighting, again without peer in my experience.
There are no categorical symbols, no sacrifice of credibility or insistence upon obvious epiphany to legitimize the film's posture towards its character and their situation. Though Shame literally transfixes the viewer, Bergman never once imposes upon him. Though not one detail of the source of the conflict, or of who is fighting whom is revealed, the conduct of the war is so painfully real, so utterly believable, that there is no necessity for explication. Shame avoids, rhetoric and relies instead upon demonstration, letting the events speak for themselves. One cannot find Bergman in his latest film, except those parts of him that are specifically general to all of us. He is mature enough to spare his viewers any murky idiosyncracies, as we sometimes see in Bunuel, and yet his firm talent shapes our understanding without fanfare or the crassness that sometimes mars Godard and Fellini. In the final analysis, it is his resolute humanity that breathes so wonderfully from this new film, a simple sincerity in dealing with the difficulty and complexity of being human. He brings to bear in Shame an intelligence that is in no way contrived or self-indulgently clever, for he has the confidence of an honest man.
MUCH HAS been made of the "difficulty" of Bergman films. True, they are as difficult as thinking about life; but if what is meant by "difficult" is that he is obscure or diffuse or private in his passion for understanding, I think that it is wrong to characterize him so. What he seems to be about is creating a modern mythology, like Grass or Berryman, that resonates within the being of a modern person. Part of the unacceptability of the classical myths as metaphor for modern life seems to stem from their very inaccessibility to most people, who are first not scholars, and second, are simply unable to divest themselves of the bewildering multiplicity of systems, of artifical organizations that direct our lives, serve as metaphors for themselves and are extra-human. Bergman reveals those human realities--love, doubt, shame--that have been so sadly buried in complexity, yet in a context comprehensible to any modern person who thinks and feels, or wants to think and feel. In this task of creating mythology, the choice of the story is crucial, indeed the whole matter, and in Shame we have a story with which every person can identify.
Jan and Eva Rosenberg are forced into a series of situations where moral decisions must be made. When you see the film, you will feel the agonizing universality of their situation and participate in it, free as you are rarely free in this time to see people as human begins and not as symbols of others things. Eve says in the film that she sometimes feels as though she is part of someone's dream, someone who will fell ashamed when he awakes. This is the shame, the obscene separation of people from themselves by acquiescing to someone else's organizational dream; the shame is the paralysis of the ability to decide what is right. You may find many other things in this film. See it, and bring with you a soldier or a child.
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