The Virgin Spring Starring: Max von Sydow, Birgitta Pettersson, Gunnel Lindblom Director: Ingmar Bergman The film: 'I'd never seen anything so quiet, so serene, and yet so violent,' says Taiwanese director Ang Lee in his video introduction to this new release of Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring. Set in medieval Sweden, and based on a traditional ballad from the same period, this unnerving tale of Pagan-Christian conflict, of rape and murder, and of bloody revenge is one of Bergman's best-known films, and one of his most critically maligned. Heavily criticised at the time of its release for being over-stylised and excessively artistic in its portrayal of violence, it also did well at the box office, most probably because of its sensational content. A young girl (Birgitta Pettersson) is raped and murdered by three goatherds while riding to church. Later, they seek a bed for the night at the girl's home. Ignorant of the identity of her parents, they try to sell the couple her clothes, whereon the father ritually prepares for and exacts his revenge. The infamous rape scene was the talk of the film world in 1960, and was predictably cut from American prints (although the movie still won the Oscar for best foreign language film in 1961). The familiar ensemble cast plays as well as in most Bergman films (his stock actors would work with him in the theatre during the Swedish winter, then make a film or two in the short summer), with notable performances from Max von Sydow (The Exorcist, The Seventh Seal) as the raging father, and Gunnel Lindblom (The Silence, Winter Light) as his adopted Pagan daughter. The cinematography is fine, too, and marks maestro Sven Nykvist's first full-time outing with Bergman, although he hadn't yet developed his trademark shadowless, silvery style by this time. Although this is one of Bergman's less perplexing films in terms of mood and content, it's perhaps not the best introduction to his work, marking as it does a turning point between his two main periods. (Earlier, realist romances such as Summer with Monika (1953) or Torment (1944) are better places to start). But as a film in its own right, The Virgin Spring still flows with enough raw emotion to keep most mainstream viewers well entertained. The extras: Filmed last October, Lee's introduction is best saved until after viewing the movie for the first time, since it gives away some crucial plot points, but it's an interesting contemporary addition to a fairly generous selection of extras. Bergman scholar Birgitta Steene gives a full, if at times rather stilted, audio commentary, with plenty of background information on the film interspersed with some reasonably objective analysis. Of interest to hardcore Bergman fans will be a 40-minute audio recording of a rare seminar given by the director at the American Film Institute in 1975. The 1.33:1 transfer is up to Criterion's usual high standards. Also included is a 28-page booklet containing essays by Bergman biographer Peter Cowie and screenwriter Ulla Isaksson, the text of the original ballad, and a note from Bergman about the film's rape scene, written after 24 seconds of the film were removed by American scissor mongers.