Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 4/16/07 w/ Additional Edits.
Directed by Ingmar Bergman and written by Ulla Isaksson based on an old Swedish ballad, Jungfrukallan (The Virgin Spring) tells the story set in medieval Sweden when a family learns their daughter has been killed and seeks revenge. The film revels on the idea of vengeance and spirituality as Bergman and his screenwriter explore these themes. Starring Bergman regulars Max Von Sydow and Gunnel Lindblom along with Birgitta Valberg, and Birgitta Petersson. Jungfrukallan is a harrowing, meditative film from the great Ingmar Bergman.
It's a typical morning for a loving, Christian family that lives in a farm as a young girl named Karin (Birgitta Petersson) is selected to bring candles to a church in a nearby town. Her mother Mareta (Brigitta Valberg) is excited for her young, virginal daughter as she gives her a gown made by 15 virgins. While Mareta admits to feeling haunted, Karin is too excited about what's going to happen on this day. Her father Tore (Max Von Sydow) is also excited though he wonders who will accompany Karin to the trip. Though their aunt Frida (Gudrun Brost) was suggested, Karin decides to take her foster sister Ingeri (Gunnel Lindblom). Ingeri, however, has a cynical feeling towards Christianity and such while worshiping the God Odin. The pregnant Ingeri accepts the job into accompanying Karin as they make their way towards the mountain path to the town.
Along the way, they stop at a nearby river bank where Ingeri claims that it's cursed as they meet a beggar (Allan Edwall). Karin chooses to go on as Ingeri goes to the home of the beggar where she sees something wrong and is haunted by the beggar's dark behavior. Karin continues to her trip where she's caught the attention of two herdsmen (Axel Duberg & Tor Isedal) and a little boy (Ove Porath). The herdsmen and the boy catch up with Karin where they stop for food and such. During the lunch, Karin talks about what she's doing in the mountains as her innocence wins over the herdsmen. Then suddenly, Karin is being attacked, raped, and later killed as Ingeri witnesses everything including the little boy throwing dirt over her body. The herdsmen and the boy later go to the home of Karin's family.
Seeking work and shelter, the herdsmen hopes to stay for the winter that night as Tore remains suspicious as does the family's priest Simon who haunts the mute, young boy. Especially since the boy's strange behavior towards their food has struck the family odd. Mareta begins to worry and when she sees the virginal gown of her daughter, she knows something is wrong. Tore worries as the motive for revenge occurs as Ingeri returns telling Tore what had happened. Tore and Mareta seek vengeance as they later find the body of their daughter as Tore wonders why has God done something like this.
While the film is simply a revenge tale of sorts, it's really about innocence and how its loss leads to vengeance and the question about God and his mysterious ways. Really, this is a film about spirituality and how it tests someone as devoted as a family who lives under the strict religion of their lord. Bergman's observant, eerie direction really plays to the film's theatrical tone. Particularly in whom Bergman chooses to focus on. In the first act, he focuses on the different personalities of Ingeri and most of all, Karin. Karin represents an innocence, naivete, and purity of a young girl who represents all that is good. Ingeri represents the opposite of Karin with her worship of the pagan god Odin and her look is very dark.
By the second act when Karin's innocence is taken away by an obscene act, the focus is on the herdsmen and the boy. The boy is haunted by what had just happened. In the third, the focus is on the parents and another sinful act that is committed. It is there, particularly in the end is where the question of where Tore questions on what he's done, why he is forced to take vengeance. It is also in this final moment of grief and confusion on why God does these things like taking a child and have her gone. While the film has a slow build-up that makes it a bit of flawed, it's the theatrical tone through Bergman's direction that really makes this drama one of the most intelligent. While audiences may agree or disagree on what Bergman is trying to say about spirituality and the way family plays their role on religion and each other.
Cinematographer Sven Nykvist brings an amazingly intimate yet enchanting look to the film's black-and-white photography. Some of the film's compositions and framing are just breathtaking with wonderful shots and lighting schemes on some of the characters to the close-ups and zooms to observe a scene. The late cinematographer's camera work is a real highlight to the film to convey how he and Bergman would compose such great scenery in some of the film's most harrowing moments. Production designer P.A. Lundgren does excellent work in capturing the intimate look of the living room inside the farm as well as the broken home of the beggar. Costume designer Marik Vos-Lundh helps convey the contrast of the different looks of character in the clothing from the elegant innocence of Karin to the torn, dirty dress that Ingeri wears.
Editor Oscar Rosander does some excellent work in giving the film an elliptical pacing, though flawed, works to convey the momentum and tension to the drama. Sound recordists Aaby Wedin and Staffan Dalin add to the tense atmosphere while in some of the film's more brutal, horrific scenes. There is very little sound only to let the audience see what's going on without having to hear the brutality. Longtime composer Erik Nordgren brings an old-school, folk sound with flutes to convey the sense of innocence of the times while creating a darker score for the film's second half.
The film's cast is wonderfully assembled with Tor Borong and Leif Forstenberg as two farmhands, Oscar Ljung as Tore's main farmhand Simon, Allan Edwall as a lonely beggar, and Gudrun Brost as Karin's aunt Frida. Ove Porath is haunting as the mute boy who is consumed with guilt over what had happened while Axel Duberg & Tor Isedal are great as the murderous herdsman with Duberg as the talkative one and Isedal as the mute herdsman. Bergman regular Gunnel Lindblom is great as the angry, abused Ingeri who is more complex character as a young woman who has been treated like dirt in her family hoping to find some redemption or something. Lindblom's performance is eerie in conveying the darkness and cynicism of her viewpoints on Christianity.
Birgitta Petersson is great as the angelic, innocent Karin with her glorious presence that represents a purity that is rarely scene in film. Petersson captures all the amounts of childhood innocence into her performance as she is kind and sincere though she has one scene where she slaps Ingeri. The fate of her character and Petersson's performance over the sinful act where’s been victimized is one of the most brutal moments to watch. Brigitta Valberg is also excellent as the haunted mother Mareta whose love for daughter is so great that the loss is just overwhelming. Valberg's heartbreak and yearning for vengeance is done with restraint that it shows that something this emotional doesn't have to be over the top. Max Von Sydow is just as great as a loving father who is forced to commit his own sins while becoming broken by what had happened. Von Sydow's performance is just as heartbreaking in the film's ending while his anger over what happened is just horrifying to watch.
Jungfrukallan is a powerful yet chilling film from Ingmar Bergman. Featuring a superb cast led by Max von Sydow, it's a film that is very provocative for discussing themes of spirituality and such in the sinful acts committed as well as challenge the way people play their roles in front of God. It's not an easy film to watch but still a rewarding one as Jungfrukallan is an extraordinary film from Ingmar Bergman.
Ingmar Bergman Films: (Crisis) - (It Rains on Our Love) - (A Ship to India) - (Music in Darkness) - (Port of Call) - (Prison) - (Thirst (1949 film)) - (To Joy) - (This Can’t Be Happen Here) - (Summer Interlude) - Secrets of Women - Summer with Monika - Sawdust and Tinsel - A Lesson in Love - Dreams (1955 film) - Smiles of a Summer Night - The Seventh Seal - (Mr. Sleeman is Coming) - Wild Strawberries - (The Venetian) - (Brink of Life) - (Rabies) - The Magician - The Devil’s Eye - Through a Glass Darkly - Winter Light - The Silence - All These Women - Persona - (Stimulantia-Daniel) - Hour of the Wolf - (Shame (1968)) - (The Rite) - The Passion of Anna - (The Touch) - Cries & Whispers - Scenes from a Marriage - (The Magic Flute) - (Face to Face) - (The Serpent’s Egg) - Autumn Sonata - From the Life of the Marionettes - Fanny & Alexander - (After the Rehearsal) - (The Blessed Ones) - (In the Presence of a Clown) - (The Image Makers) - Saraband
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