In Title Matchup we pit two films with the exact same title against each other to see which comes out on top. Today’s versus match is between Ingmar Bergman’s Shame (1968) and Steve McQueen’s Shame (2011).
This Ingmar Bergman film isn’t as regularly discussed as many of the director’s other work, but this acidic wartime drama shouldn’t be overlooked. Set in 1971 (three years after its release), Shame (1968) depicts the consequences of civil war on an idyllic pair of former orchestral musicians, played by Liv Ullmann and Max von Sydow (two frequent Bergman collaborators). The seemingly happily married couple hold no strong political views and are living blissfully naïve lives, but when they suddenly find themselves being interrogated by armed forces, they realise their relationship is irrecoverably damaged. Practically without any physical violence or visible conflict, the movie nevertheless shows the emotional devastation caused by war on powerless civilians with no agendas. As the narrative progresses, the situation becomes increasingly despairing, right until its final moments where the two central characters are seen drifting in uncertainly. It’s a powerful last image comparable with any other Bergman ending.
Shame (2011) has had a bizarre life post release. Initially garnering effusive praise for its sensitive but brutal portrayal of sex addiction, the Steve McQueen drama has since become the butt of a lot of Michael Fassbender willy jokes. Understandable, considering so few major Hollywood male actors show ‘the full goods’, but it would be ingenuous to let that overshadow what is fundamentally a very serious and commendable picture. The film essentially follows Brandon (Fassbender) as he juggles his high-flying executive life with his ongoing and increasingly destructive addiction to sex. As well as being physically exposed, Fassbender gives an incredible, emotionally exposing performance and Carey Mulligan is just as captivating as Brandon’s equally damaged sister Sissy. It’s frank, explicit imagery but supreme uneroticness draws comparisons with the work of Catherine Breillat. It’s unlikely to endear itself to everyone, but it’s bold, fearless filmmaking.
It’s a close call to make with each possessing admirable qualities, but it’s Bergman’s Shame that’s just pipped to the post by the Michael Fassbender penis movie… oh, goddamnit.
The Winner: Shame (2011)