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I have to admit, I've never been a massive fan of Bergman's flicks, but they always look spectacular. The use of natural light, and lingering close-up shots are something else. He always picks actors with uncompromisingly interesting looking faces too, which helps.
While difficult to watch given the subject matter, it is masterfully filmed. Unlike some of Bergman's prior works, the themes did not resonate as loudly in this film. Realism, brutality and an overall bleakness dominated the movie-watching experience. The visceral experience (achieved visually) outweighed the cerebral experience (thematic exploration).
In a sense, it is a story of rape & revenge. However, being from the hands of Ingmar Bergman, it is far from being a b-movie. This is AAA.
Just a couple years after The Seventh Seal, the action is built in the Swedish middle age once more. It is built as a theater tragedy, and, as so, it grows up to the to the tragic resolution.
The film is not a splatter at all, however the violence here is brutal: both the crime and the revenge. Not a drop of real blood is shown (and also fake blood very scarcely, and only once), nothing to be compared to Tarantino, for example: but, while in a Tarantino the violence is obviously a fake, here it is emotionally real: it strikes you in your guts and your soul.
However, the poetic moments are many: everything is immersed into the magic of the great Nordic forest, and quotations to the religion - both Christian and pagan - are many: notable the representation of the last supper, repeated twice, and, in the end, what I can only compare to "La Pietà", by Michelangelo: that is what leave the viewer, leaving the cinema, with a beautiful feeling inside.
Thank to my local cine club for finding and showing these milestone of the cinema.
The Virgin Spring is thematically rich, well filmed and mostly intriguing and also well acted, but it is so uneven structurally speaking as the second half should have been the majority of the movie as far as I'm concerned and the themes, especially that of justice and the nature of evil, should have been more much prominent in the story. In the end, it is solid, but never as great as it could have been.
The Virgin Spring is yet another accomplishment on Ingmar Bergman's grandiose filmography, resonating loud even after five decades.
What a masterpiece! Glad I finally got to sit down and watch this film from Ingmar Bergman, one of the all-time greatest directors. It's a very powerful film and not an easy watch, but so well done. I have always loved the work of cinematographer Sven Nykvist, but this might be one of the most beautiful B&W films I have ever seen. This Swedish classic is most highly recommended for cinema lovers!
In watching these old Ingmar Bergman movies, the thought occurs to me that Bergman was to cinema what the golden age of Russian literature was to writing. His films have a certain depth to them, and feel meaty with their observations on human nature and their questions of religion and philosophy. 'The Virgin Spring', based on a 13th century Swedish ballad, is no exception.
If you think about it, the story of 'The Virgin Spring' encapsulates quite a bit of the effect of religion on those who believe, starting with a girl needing to mind her chastity until marriage, and continuing on with a virgin must deliver candles for Matins. When a horrible thing happens to the girl, her companion and her mother both believe it's because of them, that God had listened to their jealous prayers, while her father is stricken and asks that time-old question, "God, how could you let this happen?" However, none of them challenge that most deeply held assertion, that God exists in the first place. After exacting brutal vengeance, including killing a child, the grief-ridden father asks God for forgiveness, and promises to build him a church on the site. He still believes in spite of it all, wants to remain upright in the best way he can conceive, and is both admirable and flawed at the same time.
In telling this story with elements of Job ("Why?") and Exodus/Leviticus ("An eye for an eye"), Bergman examines human nature - the inclination to do evil, and the morality of vengeance - as well as the nature of God, and our relationship to Him. How you perceive the film's meaning will likely depend on your most personal views, but it will certainly make you think.
As for the filmmaking, Bergman keeps his storytelling taut - every scene counts - and he captures plenty of great moments, including some beautiful shots of the outdoors in Sweden, and heavy emotions on the faces of his actors. One scene in particular made the film controversial, however, and no review would be complete without mentioning it. The rape is horrific, and seriously disturbing. We see evil coming as Bergman masterfully builds up tension, but are still shocked - both at the incredible cruelty of the men, but also at Bergman keeping the camera on them as they commit the act (especially for 1960). He knew he didn't have to show a lot of flesh to show how vile, disgusting, degrading, and animalistic a rape is, and it's a shame the film was banned in some places given the prevalence of rape in society. The scene speaks to the darkest aspect of man, and yet oozes authenticity.
As to whether religion casts a darkness of its own on man, the shadow of ignorance, or gives his life meaning and elevates him over nihilism and chaos, the reader will have to decide, but I believe Bergman is in the latter camp with this film. He is a bit over the top at the end, hitting us over the head with the miracle of the 'virgin spring' that gushes forth, and while that's presumably how the 13th century legend goes, it's the reason I knocked my rating down a bit for what is still a very good film.
For me, this film became extraordinarily powerful in the last scene. At first, its slow pace and relative quiet and stillness was not engaging me, but as time went on I realized just how much the silence actually was communicating. Simple gestures or facial expressions or shot juxtapositions said so much, and said it more poignantly than simple dialogue would have.
The Virgin Spring offers up a moral conundrum; a young girl is raped and murdered and her father seeks retribution. It he justified in doing so? Is he a hypocrite for espousing religious rhetoric and succumbing to the passions innate to human nature? Why would a god do this to a religious family at all?
Those who practice religion are portrayed as cruel and judgmental, focusing on building huge, indulgent churches while the average man lives in huts. This is not an indictment of religion, however; the fact that the finale suggests rebirth through the divine and offers an explanation for why man would feel the need to honor their deity through massive monuments rebukes that interpretation entirely. Bergman simply questions the nature of man's relationship to god, whether or not man is futile in shouting up at a man in the sky they've never seen. He offers no answers because there aren't any, the conundrum unsolvable, ambiguous beyond explanation, a decision that rings true to life.