A film involving a small number of characters interacting over a short period of time in a limited environment. Additional characters and environments may exist as support to the main action but would be few in number and appear only briefly.
Chamber piece is also known as chamber film or chamber drama.
See our review of Roman Polanski’s Carnage (2011) for a great example of a chamber piece.
Ingmar Bergman and the Birth of Chamber Films
Chamber film was initially derived from the term chamber music and subsequently chamber play. Chamber music constitutes a small group of classical musicians who – originally – could fit in a palace chamber. A chamber play usually comprises three acts dramatized on the stage by a small cast on one unchanging set.
The first and most well-known proponent of this method of directing for the cinema is Ingmar Bergman, who referred to Through a Glass Darkly (1961), Winter Light (1963), The Silence (1963) and Persona (1966) as his “chamber films”.
Bergman’s goal with these films was to rediscover the essence of theatre through imitating the interaction and juxtaposition of musical instruments in a chamber orchestra. In visual terms, this translated into a small group of characters remaining in a single setting and interplaying for the duration of the film. In dramatic terms, Bergman’s variation of character combinations, and the differences in rhythm and tonality he used during their exchanges shows a strong association with the characteristics of classical music.