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Sweden 1957
Directed by
Ingmar Bergman
96 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Seventh Seal, The

The Seventh Seal is a gilt-edged art cinema classic and probably Ingmar Bergman's best known film albeit for the number of times it has been parodied (most famously by Woody Allen In Love And Death) than for actual viewings.

Although to some extent diluted by Bergman’s subsequent work which both thematically and stylistically repeatedly recycled many of its elements into a very familiar refrain, the film which won the Special Jury Prize at the 1957 Cannes Film Festival is a compelling essay on man’s battle with the Infinite, beautifully photographed in classic 1950s black-and-white by Bergman’s regular photographer at the time, Gunnar Fischer.

Max von Sydow, who understandably gained an international reputation as a result of the film’s success, plays a campaign-weary 14th century knight named Antonius Block returning home from the Crusades with his squire (Gunnar Bjornstrand) only to find the country in the grip of plague.  As the pair rest on a stony seashore Block is visited by Death (Bengt Ekerot). Block challenges Death to a game of chess.  Death agrees and so Block manages to make it home to his estate and we follow him on his journey as does a band of travelling players.

Medieval Christianity with its Church-inspired fear-mongering exacerbated by presence of plague, is an apt context for Bergman to air his Calvinistic-influenced concerns about the meaning of life, or more correctly its meaninglessness and attendant questions about a Divine presence.  His various characters represent different responses to the apparent end-of-days situation: the dourly resigned knight, his skeptical squire, the happy-go-lucky actor (Nils Poppe) and his sweet-natured wife (Bibi Andersson), a parade of self-flagellating  penitents, a priest turned thief and so on, whilst the historical setting serves both to give the morbid questionings a credible narrative framework and to bring home their trans-historical relevance. The more things change, the more they stay the same,




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