It's hardly one of Bergman's best films, but The Virgin Spring is nonetheless magnificent. Bergman has made a variety of attractive films, but few feature such beautiful scenery and exacting composition as this one. The production also benefits from graceful dialogue, intense performances and stark cinematography - elements that overcome a weak story that was ineptly adapted from the ballad Töres dotter i Wänge. Yet even at its weakest (probably its stilted, conspicuously Christian ending) the proceedings are so powerfully enacted that it's impossible not to be moved by it.
I wasn't surprised by the content of this DVD edition. It's like so many other Criterion products - high-quality but stuffed with irrelevant makeweight to justify its exorbitant price. Its HD transfer of a Janus Films print was approved by Bergman himself, and it's immaculate; layman and enthusiast alike could not possibly ask for a more beautiful picture, or more vibrant sound.
Scene selections are comprised of three lists of twenty scene titles, and access to an SMPTE color bars test pattern, presumably as a means to determine if the viewer's TV settings are properly calibrated.
The English subtitles are translated with a slightly more lyrical phrasing than those of the old Nelson Entertainment VHS edition that I used to own. I only wish that they were yellow, as they're a bit difficult to see in a few particularly bright scenes. However, the dubbed English dialogue track is not kind to the ear; the few ably voiced roles are eclipsed by some intolerably melodramatic readings. It's unfortunate that von Sydow didn't participate in this dub; his English fluency is excellent and he's a capable voice actor besides.
Ingmar Bergman: A Reference Guide author Birgitta Steene voices the commentary track, which I imagine is useful for those who need to be promptly anesthetized prior to a surgical procedure. In addition to being mind-numbingly boring, the track is obviously and clumsily read by Mrs. Steene. Even if this weren't the second-worst commentary track that I've heard (the first is Stephen Barber's awkward recording for Un Chien Andalou), it would still be inappropriate. The Virgin Spring is one of those very rare films that can't possibly benefit from a commentary track. A voice-over for this film is analogous to a display of Miró's The Tilled Field in which the canvas has been overlaid with a transparent sheet of plastic on which a summary of surrealist visual art has been printed. It's a bad idea, and it's badly executed.
An introduction to the film consists of an interview with Ang Lee, who discusses the movie from a personal perspective. Lee's insights regarding this picture are sound but hardly revelatory, and he's a poor orator. Unlike certain literary works, most films require no introduction, and this one is no exception.
In contrast, the DVD's best special feature is a featurette comprised of a pair of exclusive interviews with Gunnel Lindblom and Birgitta Pettersson, who relate some interesting details and a few charming stories about the movie's production and reception.
Probably the most baffling of all the special features is Ingmar Bergman at AFI, a forty-minute audio recording of Bergman at the American Film Institute in October, 1975, passionately discussing numerous aspects of film making. While this is certainly interesting, it's not well-suited to a DVD presentation; rather, it's the sort of thing that one might download from a file-sharing network to pleasant - though mild - surprise.
Despite my criticism, this is by no means a poor edition; if one merely considers its A/V quality and Lindblom/Pettersson interviews, admirers of this film could hardly ask for a better product. However, I think that I type for many in noting that extras featuring people who weren't involved in the making of the film are usually substandard and almost invariably uninteresting. Why pad a classic with filler? I'd rather it without, especially if it meant that Criterion would subtract five to seven dollars from the unreasonable cost of this disc.
Smoke rises from the fire in a hearth until it reaches the window that's been opened for it. Before it escapes into the vast airy freedom that it will enjoy, it seems to tremble with fear. It is drawn outside anyway and then it finds itself in a better place. It is like that for people also, says the character in The Virgin Spring (1960, written by Ulla Isaksson, directed by Ingmar Bergman) who sees in the smoke's example the salvation … more
Derived from a medieval ballad, THE VIRGIN SPRING was director Ingmar Bergman's first film to win an Academy Award. The movie represents a return to simpler themes for Bergman after the philosophical complexity of THE SEVENTH SEAL and WILD STRAWBERRIES. On its most basic level, it's the story of violent crime violently avenged, but it can also be interpreted as a religious allegory on Christian forgiveness. A young girl, Karin (Birgitta Pettersson), is raped and killed by two herdsman on her way to church. Her foster sister, played by Gunnel Lindblom, witnesses the crime and reports back to Karin's parents (Max von Sydow and Birgitta Valberg) shortly after the perpetrators arrive at the couple's home seeking shelter for the night, unaware of their hosts' identity. Karin's grief-stricken father decides to take brutal revenge on his daughter's murderers. THE VIRGIN SPRING represents Bergman's first full collaboration with director of photography Sven Nykvist, who had previously worked as a co-director of p...