The film that gained Ingmar Bergman an international reputation, THE SEVENTH SEAL is an all-out religious allegory addressing that most-contemplated question, "Does God exist?" Set during a single day in the Middle Ages, the film concerns the philosophical quandary of a knight, Antonius
Block (von Sydow), who returns from the Crusades to find his country at the mercy of plague and witchhunts. In the midst of his moral and religious confusion, Antonius is visited by Death (Ekerot), a black-cloaked figure who is ready to call the knight from this earth. Antonius strikes a deal with
Death, winning a brief reprieve by inviting him to play a game of chess. Since Death apparently has a soft spot for chess, he agrees. Over the next several hours, Antonius is confronted by some who are unconvinced of God's existence (the Knight's agnostic squire, played by Bjornstrand) and some
who are (a wandering band of performers). Who survives the plague and who doesn't propels the narrative; the issues, however, are what really matter here.
Long hailed as a masterpiece of cinema, the status of THE SEVENTH SEAL (and, more generally, Bergman's place in the pantheon of great filmmakers) has steadily declined over the years. Still, we must admit to really liking this one. It is most powerful on its first viewing, when the opening burst
of light through the sky, the incredible parade of flagellants through the town, and the memorable finale with Death and his conquests have their greatest impact for a viewer. On later viewings the craft of the film remains bracing and its greater concerns stay provocative without becoming
heavy-handed. Whatever one thinks of Bergman's philosophical debates on good and evil or God and the Devil, the film nevertheless deserves one's respect. As with so much of this filmmaker's cinema, the acting is of a very high order. Von Sydow's long face makes a perfect portrait of stoicism, and
the incredibly versatile Bjornstrand scores again in a change of pace role. Poppe would never again achieve a performance quite as good as this one, his Jof a combination of artlessness and winning grace. Andersson and Lindblom are equally fine, and the details and dignity of the acting throughout
render an incredibly effective sense of period. What's most important here is that THE SEVENTH SEAL, for all its downbeat aspects, is so gripping as to be entertaining in an enlightening way. Less austere and more visually striking than some of Bergman's later films.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: The film that gained Ingmar Bergman an international reputation, THE SEVENTH SEAL is an all-out religious allegory addressing that most-contemplated question, "Does God exist?" Set during a single day in the Middle Ages, the film concerns the philosophical… (more)