Bergman won his first Oscar for this cruel but unsensational medieval allegory, a tale of superstition, religious faith, rape and revenge set in a 14th century Sweden where the populace is vacillating between Christianity and paganism. On her way to church, the 15-year-old virgin daughter (Pettersson) of peasant parents (von Sydow and Valberg) is raped by two goatherds. Later, in a bizarre twist of fate, the culprits ask for food and shelter at the house of the dead girl's parents. Discovering the truth when the goatherds offer to sell them their dead daughter's bloodstained clothes, the parents exact a brutal revenge. The formal simplicity and overt symbolism (light and dark, fire and water) undercut the potentially sensationalist elements of the material, Sven Nykvist's luminous black-and-white photography conspiring with the austerity of Bergman's imagery to create an extraordinary metaphysical charge.
Cast and crew
Max von Sydow