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Historical doom and gloom

The Virgin Spring

Based on my experiences I would say the wise thing to do would not be to watch Ingmar Bergman’s "The Virgin Spring" right before going to bed. The film is sure to leave you with dreams of a gloomy, barbarous medieval Sweden, all in black and white with scary religious symbolism. That said the films is brilliant, in large parts because of all that scare and gloom, but it is far from comfortable viewing.

Karin and her half-sister on their way to the church

It tells the story of a young maid called Karin, who rides to church with some candles that are to be dedicated to the Virgin Mary. On her way to the church she is tricked, raped and killed by three bandits. Later the same bandits seek shelter for the night at her parent’s farm, where they unwittingly try to sell Karin’s clothes to her worried mother. As I said – gloomy
It is also very, very good.

Karin's parents

The cinematography is gorgeous, the acting is good – but for me the favourite part was how the movie made me so incredibly uncomfortable. By today’s standards the violence in the film is moderate, but it is also devoid of any form of aesthetification. It seems a bit strange to say this but my favourite part might have been the rape-scene. Don’t get me wrong, it is awful too watch – but that is largely why I liked it.
All through the beginning of the film Karin is depicted as spoilt and rather naïve, and to be honest she is not that likable. When she unwittingly goes with the bandits in the wood to have a picnic I caught myself thinking thoughts along the lines of “too stupid to live”. But after the horrid and graphic rape-scene, Bergman does some thing brilliant. He lets the camera be a point-of-view shot from the robbers, effectively ensuring that the audience sees what the robbers see – and that is Karin’s face filled with fear, anguish and shock. Right before she dies Karin looks up with a mix of bewilderment and accusation, and since she is then looking up at both the robbers and the audience her accusatory glance works at many levels. Suddenly the annoyance felt at Karin’s stupidity feels very hard to swallow, because no matter how naïve she was – she did in no way deserve this.

Il Gattopardo/The Leopard

The film is based on the novel of the same name by Tomaso di Lampedusa, and tells the story of Don Frederico, the Prince of Salina trying to adjust to the changes brought about by the unification movement – the Risorgiomento - in Italy in the 19th Century. Don Frederico is played by Burt Lancaster (which sounds strange, but trust me he does an impressive job), and his personal journey and his relationship with his nephew Tancredi (Alain Delon) is the films main focus. It is a quite film, filled with brilliant shots and great acting and it is one of those films that actually manage to be profound without being obtrusive.

Claudia Cardinal as Angelica, whose presence affects both Don Frederico and Tancredi.

One of the reasons I loved this film might have been that I just finished a great book called The Force of Destiny – the history of Italy since 1796 by Christopher Duggan, which deals with just this period. The book is wonderful and utterly fascinating (queenofthorns? Have you read this? It made me think of you, with your love of history and Italy). A central point in Duggan’s book is the conflict between North and South Italy, a conflict still apparent to this day. This conflict is also a central point in Il Gattopardo, but more than that it is the story of changes and the reality of these changes.


List of films watched in 2009.



( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 15th, 2009 12:35 pm (UTC)
Funny enough I've just saved that CC's photo from google as I was looking for some pikkies to celebrate her birthday at vintage_photo:))..as for the movie I can't wait to see it coming out on dvd here:/, I haven't read the book though
And it's always good to see von Sydow's still btw... I remember..my disappointment after NOT getting the 2nd 7th seal but curiously enough, after few years, I still remember some of the scenes pretty well (yes, the rape's def among them)..:)
Apr. 15th, 2009 01:47 pm (UTC)
Hee. Then we must have googled the same images. I was actually looking for one of Mr. Lancaster, but CC was so utterly sexy and gorgeous I just had to include her.

It's funny you should mention the "Seventh Seal", because that was also at the back of my mind before watching it. Now there are differences and similarities with those two films, but I actually feel the bookend each other rather well. They both deal with religion in some regard, and they both test their characters faith against the cruelty and mindless violence of the age they depict.
Apr. 15th, 2009 12:50 pm (UTC)
The first one was my favourite Bergman film for a while. Not any more. But I was fascinated when I first saw it.
The second one I mentioned in my final thesis which I wrote back in film school (historical genre was my subject). Good times. Good times.
Apr. 15th, 2009 01:35 pm (UTC)
The Virgin Spring lingered in my head for days afterwards and I kept going over the plot lines. Almost as if I tried to rewrite it for myself, because I found the narrative proper so disturbing. So excellent film - if a bit gloomy.

And hooray! You have seen Il Gattoppardo. I fell utterly in love with that film, and how a film dealing with changes can be so quiet and understated. The pretty, pretty actors help of course. ;)
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Apr. 15th, 2009 01:44 pm (UTC)
"Silence" is also a good one, and I also have a special place in my heart for "Persona".

'Sister' would be the correct translation yes. I found it chilling that they referred to her as sister, since it was the belief in brotherly love and the kinship of mankind that had motivated Karin to sharing her food with them in the first place.

I can't remember if they at any point realise whose house they're in.

It is never really stated, but once Max von Sydow rages they catch on a bit. I actually find it interesting that the robbers are killed in rage, without fully realising why. Not only does that mirror Karin's shock and disbelief - but it also highlights the blind rage of her father. He doesn't explain why he is killing them, he just does. Ergo it is not like a modern court of law where the accused are told why they are punished, but cold revenge.
Apr. 15th, 2009 02:52 pm (UTC)
Oh god, this summer, I promise myself, I am going on a Bergman-watching spree. Thank you for the reminder.
Apr. 15th, 2009 06:47 pm (UTC)
I'd love to hear your thoughts on the films. :) Just be advised to split the film watching up into suitable intervals. I did a Bergman marathon one weekend, and ended up feeling miserable. Just too much religion and death I guess. But damn the man could make films.
Apr. 15th, 2009 03:11 pm (UTC)
I am yet to see a film by Bergman that can be called happy. This sounds even gloomier than the rest, though he always seem to manage to drag his viewers out of their comfort zone. This is may be the big part of his brilliancy - once dragged out of the box it is easier to perceive new ideas.
Apr. 15th, 2009 06:40 pm (UTC)
Well, I insist on seeing "Wild Strawberries" as sort of ambivalent-can-be-interpreted-as happy. At least it doesn't end with gloom and death.

he always seem to manage to drag his viewers out of their comfort zone. This is may be the big part of his brilliancy - once dragged out of the box it is easier to perceive new ideas.

I love the way you formulate this, because yes - that is exactly what he does. Brilliant, troubled man.
Apr. 15th, 2009 07:03 pm (UTC)
Oh, I find "Wild Strawberries" to be very sad. Doesn't it end with the protagonist's death? But it is not just that - I find the stories of how "we wither and perish, our time is but short" and about accepting the mortal nature of everyone to be very sad.
Apr. 15th, 2009 07:25 pm (UTC)
But we don't see him die as such, and at any rate at this point his actions have affected the relationship between his son and daughter-in-law to the better. And he has experienced happiness while talking to the youths that hitch-hike with him. So I've always read it as a man finding peace with himself after a lifetime or errors.

But yes, the film is sad - just not as sad as other Bergman flicks.
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Apr. 15th, 2009 06:38 pm (UTC)
I highly recommend it - though don't watch it on a rainy, grumpy day. I don't think there is a speck of hope in the entire film.

There is also a lot of religious symbolism and talk of death going on, but that is Bergman for you.
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Apr. 24th, 2009 05:38 pm (UTC)
Ooh! I've scribbled down "Between Salt water and Holy Water" because that sounds interesting and I know next to nothing about Southern Italy.

And I agree that the ball scene is brilliant. The various scenes of Don Federico dancing with Angelica, to Don Federico looking at his tired face in the mirror to him being angry with the Northern officer are all so heartbreaking - and made even more poignant by him walking home alone at the end of the film, and disappearing into a dark alley.

Maybe only Visconti could have made this film, because of his own background, not so different from Tommasi di Lampedusa's?

I would like to think so, because there is something so sensitive and knowledgeable in the way Visconti handles the material. At any rate it is a great joy to watch when a good director meets good material, and the synergy of the two becomes something unique.

Did I tell you we saw the area where Tommasi di Lampedusa's palace had been in Palermo?

Now you have made me even more envious of your trip to Palermo. ;) And I like your idea about the loss being written into the novel. I haven't read the book, but after seeing the film I really want to. Not only does it sound like the sort of historical epic I like, but I'm also curious to see how it compares and hos it differs from the film.
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )