While travelling to church one day to deliver candles, the daughter of peasants in 13th Century Sweden is raped and murdered. The story might end there, but for the fact of the parents’ generosity. The attackers emerge from the forest where they left the daughter’s body seeking shelter for the night, which is unwittingly provided by their victim’s family.
It might not need saying, but this is not an easy film to watch. The rape scene is horrific (and I do question somewhat the decision to show as much of the act as Bergman did, although Agnes Varda’s Vagabond is one of very few films I’m familiar with that refuses to let viewers bear visual witness to the act), the revenge sequence terrifying and the parent’s collection of their daughter Karin’s body is absolutely heart wrenching. Then, too, is the build up to the rape sequence, involving one of the family servants, Ingeri, a pregnant young woman clearly meant to serve as a feral, dirty foil to Karin, a woman whose terror of the woods as a result of her own assault is so great that she refuses to enter and lets Karin go on alone. Although Ingeri eventually catches up to Karin, she is not in time to be of any real assistance.
The Virgin Spring is stark and beautiful. The relative silence gives the emotional turmoil of the various characters more time to resonate and sink in. The young brother of the attacker (arguably with his own complicity) futilely piling loose dirt on Karin’s body. Ingeri holding a rock she cannot throw at the attackers that eventually slips from her grip. The father as he removes each item of his daughter’s clothing from her attacker’s bag. That Ingmar Bergman gives his characters room to be and breathe makes the film all the more poignant and touching.
Length: 89 Minutes