Though another installment of Bergman's introspective and grim ‘small island life' series, time has aged his anti-war film exceptionally well, particularly after the horrific images from the wars in the former Yugoslavia.
While husband Max Von Sydow has undergoes a cruel character arc, wife Liv Ullman – seen in more symbolic and decorative roles in Bergman's previous films – becomes the moral auger that maintains the couple's strengths and ties, when their own relations tumble to insidious depths.
Marc Gervais' commentary track is above average for this disc, though he's still too laid back in spots, often repeating a series of generalizations instead going into greater historical detail. His best points concern recurrent imagery in Bergman's moody island tales, and viewers of “Persona” and “The Passion Of Anna” will recognize some key locations and some familiar sets. A key explanation – which should help North American viewers understand Sweden's unique position – concerns the country's difficult geographic location between the former Soviet Union, and the pro-Western (U.S.) governments of Europe; locked between two elephants, a fear of aggression was quite strong for Sweden and its independent Nordic neighbours.
The DVD's documentary, “The Search For Humanity,” also touches upon this aspect, and gives a concise overview of the film's challenging production, amid budget constraints, and Bergman's waning stature among his native filmgoers. The doc's final third pretty much focuses on Liv Ullman's character – both onscreen and private – and her ongoing relationship with UNICEF, herself having visited almost a hundred global horror spots.
The doc also uses brief segments from the CBC's “Man Alive” Bergman interview, though it becomes obvious early enough how little Bergman has publicly said of his work; more specific, personal reflections on key films may exist in native Swedish documentaries or in-depth interviews, but certainly for English-language audiences, the paucity of direct reflections is magnified when the need for Bergman's own introspection is so strong after viewing “Shame.”
In addition to a still gallery of publicity and behind-the-scenes snapshots, viewers should find the trailer a curious publicity effort. Originally distributed by United Artists, the ploy was a montage of blissful moments counter-assaulted by the film's money shots and morose, suffering close-ups. As Bergman chose not to use a music score, the trailer relies on a barrage of sound effects, and the trailer closes with plaintive dialogue, though the most surprising aspect – even for 1968 – is the use of brief female nudity which mainstream studios generally avoided in their campaigns.
MGM's transfer is made from a very beautiful black & white print, and once again the artistry of cinematographer Sven Nykvist is just plain jaw-dropping. Bergman's use of long takes embraces the faces of his cast, and captures natural, emotional performances; through small nuances, the personality changes are devoid of the more forced and artificial transformations typical of Hollywood war films.
Amusingly, the tone of the film is altered to a more Hollywood timbre by the dubbing actors picked for the English dub track that's archived on the disc. It's a priceless example of a more mechanical approach (and the colloquial customs of a different culture) that once affected the visions of foreign directors with a distinct European voice in English-language theatres.
This title is available separately, or as part of the Ingmar Bergman Collection that includes the films "The Serpent's Egg", "Persona", "Shame", "The Passion Of Anna", "Hour Of The Wolf," and a Bonus Disc.
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan