Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Virgin Spring

Jungfrukällen; drama, Sweden, 1960; D: Ingmar Bergman, S: Max von Sydow, Brigitta Valberg, Brigitta Pettersson, Gunnel Lindblom, Axel Duberg

Sweden, 14th century. Karin is a naive but frivolous girl, the only daughter of a very religious family, consisting out of mother Märeta, father Tore and peasants working on their farm. Since it is Easter, Karin, a virgin, is send to light a candle in the nearby church, located dozens of miles away. Together with servant Ingeri, who secretly worships Odin, Karin rides on the horse through the forest. Near a river, she meets three herdsmen: one is mute, one is a child, the other thin. She shares her lunch with them, but the mute and the thin hersman rape and kill her. Later that day, the three herdsmen accidentally land in the house of Karin's parents and offer to sell Karin's clothes. When Tore finds this out, he kills them. Tore, Märeta and the others find Karin's corpse, and from it, a spring begins to flow.

One of the classics of the 60s, this excellent adaptation of the Swedish ballad "Tore's Daughters in Vange", "The Virgin Spring" is one of Ingmar Bergman's best - and most untypical - films. Even though his often themes about religion, existentialism and death are still here, they are placed in the background to make room for a simple, common, accessible story about rape, which takes a turn towards "Crime and Punishment" in the second half. Moreover, these themes are told not through dialogues, but through a plot whose actions and behaviors gives it narrative. From the opening sequence where a maid takes a small chick and tells it to live its "puny life like all God's creations", the viewers are well aware that this is not a conventional history drama, but a clever character study and a philosophical tale. Karin's long ride on the horse though the forest, to get to the desolated church, is very expressionistic and full of beauty, both in mise-en-scene as well as in the opulence of nature. The sole rape sequence is haunting, as well as the legendary plot twist that later on grants a subtle revenge finale that is better and more sophisticated than any Tarantino film, yet, as director A. Lee nicely puts it, it is very rare to see a movie so serene and violent at the same time. The mood, the direction that allows the story to flow naturally, great actors, from von Sydow to Pettersson who is wonderful as the naive girl, and a very demanding tone that manages to be wonderfully 'light', give this film a timeless quality. The only flaw are the last five minutes, whose religious pondering are unnecessary and seem forced, almost imposed: maybe Bergman wanted to give the religious side power for once, since in most other of his films, the stories end in negating it.


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