On a Bergman kick lately, so I meant to watch this and Hour of the Wolf for SHOCKtober, but only made it to one. The beginning of Bergman’s extensive work with cinematographer Sven Nykist, brilliant looking but with less of the extreme blacks of Smiles of a Summer Night and The Magician. Supposedly this was stylistically influenced by Akira Kurosawa, after which Sven and Ingmar created their own style.
Pure and flowery Karin with dark, suspicious Ingeri:
Karin (Birgitta Pettersson, a housemaid in The Magician) is the beautiful daughter of Tore (Max Von Sydow, The Magician himself) and Mareta (Birgitta Valberg of Port of Call), sent to church to deliver candles one Sunday wearing her nicest dress. Pregnant dark-haired servant girl Ingeri (Gunnel Lindblom of Winter Light) comes along. The parents are devout Christians (especially mom, who whips herself in atonement) but the girls aren’t – Ingeri prays to Odin and Karin seems to only care about being spoiled by her parents and looking pretty for boys. Along the way Karin flirts with a boy whom Ingeri knows, and the two flee from an icky bridge keeper.
Commentary says the raven represents Odin
The raven appears right after the old man at the bridge, an Odin supporter:
While Karin is alone she comes across a grotesque gang of acrobat goat-herdsmen brothers, and shares her lunch with them, but the two older ones chase then rape and kill her, while the youngest watches, afraid.
Karin, first realizing she’s in danger:
The brothers continue on their travels, ask refuge at Tore and Mareta’s house, and in private offer to sell Mareta a beautiful dress – the one Karin was wearing when she left that morning. So the parents already know Karin is in trouble, possibly dead, when Ingeri comes along and confirms it to Tore. “Kill me first. My guilt is greater than theirs. I willed it to happen. Ever since I became with child I’ve hated her. The very day I prayed for it, he did it. It was him and me, not the herdsmen.”
Tore puts himself through a purification ritual, wrestles a tree to the ground, then waits for the brothers to awaken and kills them all (knife, fire, and throwing the young boy into the wall). Ingeri walks them to their daughter’s resting place. Mareta: “I loved her too much, Tore, more than God himself. When I saw how she favored you, I began to hate you. It is me God meant to punish by this. I bear the guilt.” When Karin’s head is moved, a spring bubbles up from the ground beneath it. Tore senses God is speaking to him, knows he went too far killing the boy, and swears to devote the rest of his life to building a church on that spot.
Von Sydow, out for blood:
Earlier when Ingeri is preparing sandwiches for Karin’s lunch, she puts a live toad between slices of bread, which falls out just before the murder. The DVD commentary: “in ancient scandinavian folklore, toads were thought to be the devil in disguise.”
The movie won an oscar (against Clouzot’s La Verite), but the American and French critics who’d been Bergman’s biggest champions trashed it. Bergman later said it should be regarded as an aberration in his work, and never made another film in an historical setting.
A decade later Wes Craven took the same story and made reprehensible trash out of it with Last House on the Left.