The Virgin Spring (Ingmar Bergman, 1960, Sweden)

               The Virgin Spring can be viewed in some ways as a companion piece to The Seventh Seal. Like that film, The Virgin Spring is a period piece set in medieval Sweden. Screenwriter Ulla Isaksson’s script is based on a 13th-century Swedish ballad. The Virgin Spring also shares similar themes with The Seventh Seal, as well as cast members – Max von Sydow and Gunnel Lindblom. Both films launched Bergman into international prominence, with Virgin garnering him an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and landing him on the cover of Time magazine. Yet Virgin stands on its own merits as a powerful film, and one of Bergman’s best.

               The film essentially laid the foundation for both the folk horror and rape-and-revenge films that would come to prominence later on in the 1970s. Most notably, the film’s plot was directly lifted for Wes Craven’s notorious Last House on the Left (1972). It tells the story of the daughter of a wealthy family who is raped and murdered by a band of goat herders, after the family’s envious servant invokes a pagan curse. The herders later on take refuge at the daughter’s family home, where the father enacts his revenge. On this simple canvass, which Bergman captures with incredible beauty and simplicity, he grapples with many of the themes that would come to define his career. Why do tragedies befall good people? The Virgin Spring in particular examines the pagan and Christian sides of humanity.

               Karin, played by Brigitta Pettersson, conveys her loss of innocence in a truly tragic manner. Her murder and rape even by today’s standards is quite shocking, and at the time of the film’s release it engendered controversy, including censorship in the US release and even banning. This contrast between brutality and the beautiful and scenic setting would prove immensely influential on other filmmakers.

10/10

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