Starring: Max von Sydow, Birgitta Valberg, Birgitta Pettersen
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Running Time: 89 mins
The Virgin Spring (Jungfrukällen) is a Swedish film about a young woman and her servant who set out across the forest to deliver candles to a nearby church, but after only one returns from the journey, chaos erupts.
A strikingly raw film as director Ingmar Bergman does so well, The Virgin Spring is without a doubt a gritty and at times heavy-going watch. With that said, however, it doesn’t hit home on a deeper level, never really getting under your skin with its depiction of evil, and instead coming across as just that little bit more monotonous.
But, let’s start with the positives, the biggest of which is that Bergman definitely doesn’t hold back in this film. The story of an innocent young woman who is raped and murdered in an isolated forest, the film is an unsettling watch from the start, building towards its focal moment with unnerving calmness.
Bergman’s raw visual and atmospheric style play a big role in that, as along with the earthy portrayal of the small agricultural community that the film takes place in, the harsh, gritty sense that pervades through the whole movie makes even its quieter moments genuinely unsettling.
The moment in which the rape itself unfolds is brutal and very uncomfortable. It doesn’t rely on graphic visuals at all, but rather focuses on the fear in the eyes of the young girl who becomes a victim, and the selfish evil of the men who commit the heinous crime.
And that’s where the film really should have found its strongest emotional impact. The second half of the film, after that devastating turning point, looks at the response of the girl’s father to hearing the news of her death at the hands of rapists, yet the film doesn’t do enough to really make you feel the same rancour as the father, played by Max von Sydow.
Such a story should really get under your skin, and particularly with the way in which the story unfolds in the latter stages, I expected The Virgin Spring to really make me grit my teeth in outrage and disgust.
Yet, despite the film’s best efforts, it’s a little too disconnected to really deliver that emotion on a personal, relatable level, frustratingly missing the mark with what could have been a striking and deeply affecting watch.
As a result, The Virgin Spring isn’t quite the intense, enraging tale of rape of revenge that it aims to be. It’s an engaging watch, and with a raw, earthy atmosphere developing a strikingly gritty air, it grabs you with unnerving drama and tension throughout. Yet by missing the mark in its delivery of the core emotional point of the story, the film lacks the power it really needs to get under your skin. And that’s why I’m giving it a 7.2 overall.