Friday, January 29, 2010

The Virgin Spring (1960), Dir: Ingmar Bergman

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.

Rating: 10/10

Genre: Foreign/Drama

Length: 89 Minutes

Diabolique (1954), Dir: Henri-Georges Clouzot

Having had enough of Michel’s cheating and abusive ways, his wife Christina and mistress Nicole plot together to kill him. Their bond (and nerves) starts to unravel, however, when Michel’s body turns up missing.

Diabolique is a taut and suspenseful thriller. In one scene, when relatively cool-headed Christina has grown nervous enough to start pacing and the camera keeps pace, I could feel my own anxiety level ratcheting up alongside hers . While many modern viewers might not find this film terrifying by today’s standards, the last five minutes or so of the film had me holding my breath like I haven’t since Cary Grant carried a poisoned Ingrid Bergman down the stairs in Notorious.

Clouzot does a wonderful job using objects in the scene to underscore the tension between the two women once their plan has gone awry. From screens to the phones to lamps, objects serve to visually reinforce the split between Christina and Nicole.

And the closeness again when they begin to believe everything is going to turn out OK:


Rating: 10/10

Genre: Foreign/Thriller

Length: 119 Minutes

* You'll notice the big hit in the trailer is "Don't reveal the ending." I attempted to craft the review and very brief summary so as to give nothing away. It wasn't easy in this movie given the way truth and madness are a central part of the plot.