Honestly, I wasn’t expecting too much from The Virgin Spring. I know that it’s Bergman, but it’s based on an ancient Swedish medieval ballad. If your source material is hundreds of years old and only two pages long, surely there can’t be much to see from the film, can there?
I could not have been more wrong. Though this may be just under an hour-and-a-half in length, the film is filled with subtext, imagery and several powerful messages. Spring tells the story of a fair maiden who is brutally …aped and murdered on her way to church, and her father’s revenge on those responsible. Bergman has managed to make his morality tale into a complex commentary on both human nature and the nature of Christian faith. By setting his story in the period in Swedish history between paganism and Christianity, he is able to masterfully illustrate the struggle of both the first Christians and Christians today between denying basic impulses and focusing on the will of God.
I will undoubtedly return to this film again and again in my life, as I struggle with my own demons. I don’t believe I have ever experienced a film more in tune with the inner conflict of the human condition. This is a simply fantastic film, and I really can’t recommend it enough to those that long to discover more about themselves and the nature of true faith.
I was very pleased with the quality of this Swedish Mono track. I often times expect foreign films, especially those that are several years old, to come complete with shoddy static-filled soundtracks. Lucky for me, Criterion does not hold the same low expectations,a d the have done a marvelous job of cleaning up the audio on this film. I didn’t experience a single regrettable moment throughout this presentation. Dialog (while obviously in a language I do not understand) was clean and clear, and sound effects such as the all-important sounds of water were sparkling and detailed. In short, this is a very nice soundtrack that does the film justice.
The video quality is just as good if not better than that of the audio. There is no grain to be found on this master, and the same can be said for dust, scratches and the like. This transfer is probably about as close as a classic film can get to the look of a brand new black-and-white film. Whites are bright, blacks are dark and every gray in between is clean and even. I was even impressed with the sharpness and detail in the shots, especially during the scenes shot on location in the forest. Every branch is clearly visible as our tragic heroine rides along the path, adding a sense of heightened awareness to everyone involved; everyone, tragically, except for Karin herself.
For a “little” film such as this one, there is a really nice stable of extras here. First up is a 28-page booklet that is filled with essays, notes, production photographs and the source material itself. Those of you that re already Criterion fans know that when this company puts together a booklet, it is more than just your standard insert… it is a true special feature unto itself.
Also here is an audio commentary by Ingmar Bergman scholar Birgitta Steene. Steene is clearly very knowledgeable on her subject, and her comments are filled with many interesting facts. An introduction by filmmaker Ang Lee is also included, and while this should only be viewed after watching the film, Lee makes some surprisingly insightful comments on the film, and I am really pleased that this extra is included here.
A collection of interviews conducted especially for this DVD release are also here. Criterion frequently does something like this,and I am always impressed when they do. This is a first-rate interview selection, shot in widescreen and of the utmost quality. Finally, there is a section of several audio comments by Bergman himself recorded at a talk he gave for the American Film Institute in 1975. Again, this is just one more unique extra that Criterion has put together in their effort to make this release the best that it can possibly be.
Not only is this an excellent film, but the DVD does it justice. While The Virgin Spring is not widely regarded as one of Ingmar Bergman’s best films, it has easily earned a special place in my DVD library. There is nothing wrong with watching a movie for entertainment value, but Bergman has presented a piece with a little more substance here. This is a film with depth; each viewing will reveal something new to the viewer about themselves, filmmaking and the nature of faith. Film buffs owe it to themselves to seek this disc out and devour it. As I said before, this is a piece that I will gladly view again and again.
Special Features List
- Commentary by Ingmar Bergman scholar Birgitta Steene
- Introduction by filmmaker Ang Lee
- New video interviews with actresses Gunnel Lindblom and Birgitta Pettersson
- Audio recording of a 1975 AFI seminar by Bergman
- 28-page booklet