The Virgin Spring (Jungfrukällan)
Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Written by Ulla Isaksson
First viewing/Netflix rental
Bergman sets unspeakable tragedy amid great beauty.
The setting is 14th Century Sweden. The story is based on a medieval ballad.
Karin (Birgitta Petterson) is a spoiled but basically devout young woman of maybe 16 years. She is the darling of her parents, Tor (Max von Sydow) and Märeta. On this particular morning she has slept late and missed morning services. Her parents want her to take candles to church in honor of the Virgin Mary. Karin would prefer to stay in bed but agrees to go in exchange for being allowed to dress up in her finest clothes.
Meanwhile, Karin’s “foster sister” Ingeri, who basically works as a servant in the home, is seething with rage. She is heavily pregnant and hates Karin and her privileged life. At the last minute, Ingeri is asked to accompany Karin on her journey. Karin is relentlessly kind to Ingeri, who continues to resent her mightily.
The two women set off on horseback in sunshine into the gorgeous Swedish countryside. Midway, Karin comes upon three poor herdsman, two men and a boy, and offers them food. In return, they rape and murder her. Ingeri looks on in ineffectual horror.
Later that day, the herdsman show up at the parents’ farm. They are offered hospitality. When one of them offers Karin’s garments for sale, Tor vows and executes vengeance. But Tor and Märeta’s grief and regret can only be assuaged by God’s mercy.
The high points of this film all involve Sven Nykvist’s stunning cinematography. The glorious sunny Swedish landscape is contrasted with high contrast lighting within the confined spaces of Tor’s family home. I loved all the medieval details, from the clothes to the tools and buildings.
The rape is pretty hard to take. I softened the blow by listening to the commentary first. I was surprised to find out that this was not one of Bergman’s favorite nor a critical success. Both Swedish and French New Wave critics thought Bergman was really slipping. Religious themes were falling out of vogue. I like to think about such things and liked the film. Recommended.
The Virgin Spring won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It was nominated for Best Costume Design, Black-and-White.