Max von Sydow did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Jan Rosenberg in Shame.
Shame is an excellent film that follows a couple through a war torn country.
The film follows Max von Sydow as Jan with his wife Eva naturally played by Liv Ullmann. The two seemed as though they specialized in playing married couples in a few years also doing so in Ingmar Bergman's other film from 1968 Hour of the Wolf, and later on in The Emigrants and its sequel The New Land. The reason for this seems rather obvious when watching the two together as they have such an authentic chemistry with one another. A chemistry that quite honestly covers whatever part of a married relationship they may need to be in. This is particularly essential in Shame since the two almost share all their scenes together and their relationship is rather symbiotic here. The film actually begins in an unassuming enough fashion as the two just go about what seems a normal day though in the normal day we do see what makes them who they are as a married couple. von Sydow and Ullmann have that ease in each other presence that offers the years together. The two though are equally effective though in sort of portraying the same ease in conflict as when they fight over their past difficulties that too feels so natural and so a part of what they've done to each other over the years such as Jan's infidelities in the past. The two though so elegantly create that rich history as they never define the relationship only on a single facet of their lives.
Their convincing portrayal of the married couple is essential to the film as the two together lead us through their experience through the war, which is depicted here in a unique fashion. The war never exactly happens, we see the military uniforms, the trucks, but it seems almost in the background until the other army begins to show up. This happens without warning with Jan and Eva finding themselves in the middle of it all. The two of them are excellent together in portraying the needed visceral intensity of the moments really as the film takes such a barrage of them which von Sydow and Ullmann have to stay with. Both actors capture the rapid fire confusion in the moment as they reveal the struggle just to keep up what is happening, portraying actually the fear with the lack of comprehension reinforcing the dire nature of the situation. One particularly effective moment in this is when they are suddenly approached by a propaganda crew for a interview and von Sydow and Ullman convey the complete loss of sense in their eyes and delivery as the barely know what is going on. Both are terrific in how natural they in revealing how unnatural the situation is. They are both just two normal people there not soldiers.
I love their physical performances in these scenes as the two of them show so well the two grip one another attempting to hold onto to each other for any source of solace and in the most harrowing moments reveal a particular striking connection than was not nearly evident during peacetime, hidden usually by their various squabbles. The two do not cheat the idea or show that this in anyway truly improves their relationship by any measure. What they instead show is the way the two basically come closer together the more dire the situation given that in their embrace the two show them searching for any comfort in the arms of each other. The two though reveal the desperation in this in that they do not always reveal any success in this act, only the attempt for it and to hold onto something throughout their trials. Again what is so remarkable about this is just how natural the two are together and make every scene have all the greater impact due to that. They pull the viewer right into their struggle as there never feels a hint of acting within either of their performances that offers such a strict authenticity in every scene. The create the needed focal point within every new purposefully random thing that comes from the war.
Now where their performances separate most strongly is within the portrayal of how each of them are changed as individuals through their experiences. von Sydow so effectively keeps Jan an average man in his situation, an average man who isn't quite a coward but also just wants to survive. There is nothing early on duplicitous in this whatsoever through the genuine fear and confusion he portrays that almost overwhelms the man. This changes though when they are offered some reprieve by an official of one of their armies unfortunately the official requires sexual favors in return. von Sydow is heartbreaking in his depiction of the moment where the implications of this seem to finally dawn on him. The object grief he reveals is palatable as he so quietly just brings to life such earnest devastation in the man. A devastation that is not alleviated by Eva's cold reaction to his sorrow. This soon leads to the other army gaining favor again where they encourage Jan to execute the official. von Sydow is brilliant in the scene as his performances captures such an awkwardness in the moment of a sort of vengeance. He shows the anger within it but also the hesitations of a man who is not a killer. There is something so broken in his performance that fits so well to the average man doing something he should never had to do. The change to the harder man is not a simple transition but rather von Sydow makes it a horrible mess as it should be for a man like Jan. It seems he kills again and von Sydow makes sense of that because of this approach. von Sydow reveals a man on a edge that he barely even understands revealing just this impulsive reactions from moment to moment presenting someone trying to find a way past his breaking point. When Jan in finding his "escape" even suggests Eva need not come, von Sydow makes the brutality in the statement honest by showing it to come from the detached state for survival Jan has fallen into. von Sydow shows the narrow view of the man just looking for any way to depart from his troubles. Their return as a couple at the end is muted and haunting moment as Ullmann and von Sydow leave on the two with each other but lost in the turmoil of their experiences.