alderwounds (alderwounds) wrote in filmfolk,

"The Virgin Spring"

(1960) (AKA "Jungfrukällan")
Directed by Ingmar Bergman.
89 minutes, Swedish.

Unfortunately, this review of is going to miss a very important aspect when considering the film. According to the opening credits, it is an adaptation of a 13th century Swedish ballad. I don't speak Swedish and am not sure where to find it in the first place. So, if anyone knows anything more about it please feel free to fill me in as I am always interested.

Earlier this year, I realized that one of the great names in film that I had completely missed was Ingmar Bergman, perhaps one of the most celebrated directors of all time. While in Denmark earlier this year, conversations with Danes about Bergman sparked my curiosity, combined with a distant glimpses of some of his work, mainly "The Seventh Seal" (1957) due to the distinctive and highly influential imagery surrounding the film.

Of the three films by Bergman I had seen ("The Seventh Seal," "Persona" (1966) and "Wild Strawberries" (1957)) I have enjoyed "Wild Strawberries" the most and it has subsequently become one of my favorite movies of all time. I sometimes actually enjoyed the unsettling suspense and experimentation of "Persona" more than the stark, bleached apocalypse of "The Seventh Seal." This doesn't mean that I don't think "The Seventh Seal" doesn't deserve all of the respect and recognition it has garnered -- quite the contrary. Bergman's films have a shimmering, quiet quality to them that I haven't seen duplicated.

After reading a number of summaries of works by Bergman, "The Virgin Spring" caught my eye due not only to my interests in Norse polytheism, of which the film briefly references, but also because it apparently inspired Wes Craven's "Last House On The Left," an early American slasher film from the 1970s.

The plot seems to be set during the Christianization process in Sweden. A wealthy Christian farmer couple in medieval Sweden have two daughters, one of whom is adopted. The adopted daughter, Ingeri, an unkempt brunette, is scorned by her adopted Mother. She mysteriously chants the name of Odin to herself when upset. The other, Karin, a shining blond, is celebrated by both of her parents. Karin is naive and flirty yet chaste and mischievous, basking in her status of wealth and adoration. Ingeri is bitter, acts out and is pregnant out of wedlock.

After sleeping in late one morning, Karin is asked to deliver candles to a local church, as they must be delivered by a virgin. Karin requests that Ingeri come with her and her father accepts despite her mother's qualms.

The two continue along a series of gorgeously filmed sequences in the Swedish forests until they reach a stream. There they encounter a large raven and a haggard man greets them. He appears to have a single good eye or at least two differently colored eyes. Here an odd scene occurs where Karin leaves behind Ingeri and the old man offers her folk remedies for her pain - including a human finger. He tells her he has dreamt of her. The scene seems to be allegorical and perhaps intentionally vague. Whatever the case, it sends Ingeri fleeing into the woods.

Three sheep herders spy Karin as she continues along her trail, one of which is a young boy. Of the two oldest herders, one spins a short sob story about their origins. She agrees to share her lunch with them in a field nearby, with their goats. Karin boasts of her status as a self-proclaimed "Princess" and exaggerates the wealth of her family, arousing perhaps not only envy but also much darker feelings amongst the two older males. A striking scene here features Karin clutching a baby goat in dawning terror before she is raped and murdered.

The murderers then seek shelter in a stead on their way for reasons not entirely explained, although it may have something to do with their assumed need to flee the area. The stead belongs to the wealthy family we've seen at the beginning, whom discover the murders and exact a brutal revenge. There is a particularly emotive scene here where Karin's father enacts his rage on a tree, tearing it to the ground.

The ending is perhaps a bit ludicrous but I can't be too hard on judging this without being familiar with the source material. It may also not be as immediately obvious as it seems, as many questions are left unanswered even as the film concludes. Maybe it's a historical comment.

This film was shot with the eye of an artist and the mind of a poet. A good example of this is the location where the rape occurs. The outdoor set features a large downed tree - symbolism or spur of the moment location? The lighting is wonderful, largely natural and a lot of the movie seems to be on location. Certainly an achievement and likely an overlooked masterpiece in Bergman's portfolio.
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