In celebration of Ingmar Bergman’s 100th birthday this month, the Criterion Channel on FilmStruck is presenting a series of Friday Night Double Features that bring together an essential work by the master and a film that bears its influence. This week, we’re showing Bergman’s Oscar-winning The Virgin Spring, a tale of savagery in medieval Sweden, which served as a direct influence on Wes Craven’s notoriously nasty debut feature, The Last House on the Left. Despite the similarities in their premises, these harrowing dramas about rape, murder, and revenge showcase the distinct styles of their directors—the earlier film is a powerful interrogation of faith and morality, while Craven’s spin is a shocking piece of exploitation filmmaking that was initially banned for its depiction of sadism and sexual violence.
Also on this week:
All around the country, in big cities and small towns, independent art-house theaters are thriving hubs of moviegoing, each with its own story to tell. With this series, Criterion goes wherever film culture is happening and brings back brief documentary portraits of different local art houses along with a selection of films handpicked by their programmers. The latest episode pays a visit to the Texas Theatre in Dallas, best known as the place where Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested. Today, the theater is far more than a historical monument, catering to a diverse local community in the neighborhood of Oak Cliff with wide-ranging repertory programming and popular live events that incorporate music and dance, including an original ballet based on Chris Marker’s La Jetée. Marker’s film also serves as the first selection in what will be an ongoing series that the theater guest-programs exclusively for the Channel.
Feline frights abound in these two films that turn cats into the stuff of nightmares. Brenda Lien’s short Call of Cuteness takes aim at the way internet culture uses cat imagery, critiquing the consumption and exploitation of animals through its grotesque animation. Then, Nobuhiko Obayashi’s outrageously psychedelic horror film House features a terrifying, blood-spewing ghost cat, one of the predators (also including a hungry piano) that destroy a group of schoolgirls on vacation at a spooky country house.
With this arresting drama based on notorious real-life events, Cristian Mungiu mounts a complex inquiry into faith, fanaticism, and indifference. At a desolate Romanian monastery, a young novice nun, Voichița (Cosmina Stratan), reunites with her former companion Alina (Cristina Flutur), who plans to take her to Germany. But Voichița proves unwilling to abandon her calling, and Alina becomes increasingly desperate to reclaim her devotion, putting the outsider at odds with the monastery’s ascetic priest-and precipitating a painfully misguided, brutal attempt to save her soul. A naturalistic tragedy with the dark force of a folktale, anchored by the fraught dynamic between cinema newcomers Flutur and Stratan (who shared the best actress prize at Cannes), Beyond the Hills bears powerful witness to individuals at cross-purposes and institutions ill-equipped to help those most in need. Supplemental features: an interview with Mungiu, a documentary about the making of the film, a press conference from the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, deleted scenes, and more.