Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Movie Review: The Virgin Spring (1960)

Apparently, if one is truly interested in cinema, one should watch some of the movies by Ingmar Bergman, a famous Swedish director who has been influential in film and acknowledged by people like Woody Allen and the late Robert Altman as being significant in their own development. So, I decided to sit down and watch a couple, choosing the 1957 The Seventh Seal and the 1960 The Virgin Spring. I was deeply rewarded by watching both. In this review, I would like to focus on The Virgin Spring. The Wikipedia article on Ingmar Bergman comments on the fact that '[h]is films usually deal with existential questions of mortality, loneliness, and faith.' There is no doubt about this when it comes to The Seventh Seal and The Virgin Spring. The Virgin Spring is set in 14th-century Sweden when people were living in a tension between paganism and Christianity. Herr Tor (Max von Sydow) and his wife, Mareta (Birgitta Valberg) are wealthy farmers who live an ascetic, strict Christian life. Their 15-year-old virgin daughter, Karin (Bergitta Petterson) is spoiled and privileged in contrast to Karin's "foster-sister", Ingeri (Gunnel Lindbloom) who, pregnant out of marriage, is treated with disdain and tolerated. Inderi represents the pagan side of Swedish life at the time and, because of her situation, calls on the god, Odin, to help her - a call she later believes is answered in the events that followed. One day, Karin is asked to take candles to the family's church requiring a horse ride through a forest. She convinces her mother to let her wear her special clothing, usually reserved for attending church or special events. Ingeri accompanies her. On the way, Karin is attacked, raped, and murdered by two goat-herder brothers. In an ironic twist, these goat-herders turn up at Tor and Mareta's farm seeking shelther and food. When Tor and Mareta become aware of what has happened to their daughter, Tor takes revenge but realises, at a certain point, that he has gone too far. They set out to find their daughter and, when they do, Tor experiences a profound shattering of his faith - until a miracle occurs. Near the end of the film, Torr cries out to God and says:
You see it, God, you see it. The innocent child's death and my revenge. You allowed it. I don't understand you. Yet now I beg your forgiveness. I know no other way to be reconciled with my own hands. I know no other way to live.
It's a cry that many of us make when we find ourselves in the middle of pain and suffering - when the innocent die and God seems to stand by and do nothing. And then we react, taking revenge or solving the problem only to realise we have made it worse. Then all we can do is cry out to God, admitting our inability to understand and throwing ourselves on the mercy of God and God's forgiveness. What else can we do? We know no other way to live. The Virgin Spring is superbly photographed in black and white. The acting is powerful, though perhaps not in a style that we are familiar with nowadays. The Virgin Spring is a profound morality tale that raises a whole host of questions about religion, providence, and our response to unfathomable evil. It's a haunting meditation. It won the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 1960. You may not find it in your corner video store, but it is worth hunting down if you can. My Rating: **** (out of 5) Positive Review 'Although the story plays straightforwardly, greater enjoyment comes through pondering the meanings behind Bergman's symbolic tapestry.Although the story plays straightforwardly, greater enjoyment comes through pondering the meanings behind Bergman's symbolic tapestry.' - John A Nesbit/ (good discussion of some of the religious themes) Negative Review 'It is far from an easy picture to watch or entirely commend. For Mr. Bergman has stocked it with scenes of brutality that, for sheer unrestrained realism, may leave one sickened and stunned.' - Bosley Crowther/New York Times (1960) AUS: M USA: unrated

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