The Seventh Seal (1957)

The Seventh Seal (Det sjunde inseglet)seventh seal poster
Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Written by Ingmar Bergman
1957/Sweden
Svensk Filmindustri (SF)

Repeat viewing/Criterion Collection DVD
#332 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

 

Antonius Block: This is my hand. I can turn it. The blood is still running in it. The sun is still in the sky and the wind is blowing. And I… I, Antonius Block, play chess with Death.

I always host a little classic film festival when my brother comes to visit and this is what he chose for yesterday.  The Seventh Seal is one of my very favorite films.  Amid the haunting images of pestilence and death that stick in my mind, I always forget how funny it can be.

In 12th Century Sweden, knight Antonius Block (Max von Sydow) and his squire Jöns Gunnar Björnstrand) return from the Crusades only to find that the land has been scourged with the Black Plague.  And although Antonius managed to dodge him in combat overseas, Death (Bengt Ekerot) has come to claim him at home. Antonius’ religious faith was badly shaken by all he had seen and he seeks to postpone his end until he can find some clarity and perform one last meaningful act.  So he challenges Death to a game of chess and sets off towards his castle during the pauses between moves.  Jöns, a total cynic, goes along for the ride.

seventh seal 2

On the way, the two come upon an performing company made up of a lecherous actor/manager and an idyllic little family consisting of Mia (Bibi Andersson), her husband Jof, a juggling visionary and dreamer, and baby Mikael.  When the troupe performs at a vllage festival, the manager runs off with a smithy’s wife and eventually the smithy and his wife join in the journey to the castle.  The final member of the group is a seemingly mute girl who has been been rescued by Jons from a predatory cleric.

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Death is never very far away from Antonius and has no answers to his questions about the afterlife and God.  The knight is unable to find the key from an allegedly demon possessed witch or in religious rituals like self-flagellation that the faithful believe will protect them.  The closest he is able to come to a meaning in life is the serenity of a simple meal of wild strawberries and milk with the good and gentle family. He is ready to face Death with all his doubts when they are safe.

seventh seal 1

This is a beautiful, mesmerizing  experience that is particularly suitable for any film lover’s bucket list.  As deep as its concerns are, my brother and I found ourselves laughing out loud throughout.  I especially love the part where Death has the manager cornered up a tree.  All Jons’ lines are also gems.

The Seventh Seal and its participants won a number of prizes at film festivals, including the Special Jury Prize at Cannes.

Original 1957 Trailer

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