Monday, June 18, 2007

The Seventh Seal


Det sjunde insglet; Fantasy drama, Sweden, 1957; D: Ingmar Bergman, S: Max von Sydow, Gunnar Björnstrand, Bengt Ekerot, Nils Poppe, Bibi Andersson, Maud Hansson

Sweden, 12th Century. Antonius Block, a knight, has returned from the crusades with his squire Jöns. On the beach, he meets Death. In order to save his life, he challenges Death to a chess match and wins, returning to his village. At the same time, Jof, a traveling entertainer, spots the Virgin Mary in the meadow, but his wife Mia doesn't believe him. Together with their little child, they are traveling through villages to perform acts. They meet Antonius and join him. On their journey they witness a mob burning a "witch". Antonius plays once more with Death, distracting it so that the couple can get away. He looses and Death takes him and his colleagues.

The legendary image of Death, personified by a pale man with a dark cape, has been used in numerous parodies and TV shows, but it's origin still lies the strongest in the second film it appeared in, the existential classic "The Seventh Seal", winner of the Grand Prix in Cannes. Besides creating an icon, Ingmar Bergman also offered a surreal essay about the search for the meaning of life, once again questioning God's existence and the mad rituals of medieval traditions that have stayed even today, hiding the true nature of life. "Seal" isn't that good as many claim it is: placing it among the greatest masterworks of cinema is rather overblown due to it's monotone rhythm, tedious mood, weak structure and cold presentation. Still, Bergman through heavy symbolism manages to create an ambitious and clever metaphor about life, with great little details: in one of the most imaginative, Death is sawing a tree with a character called Skat on it. The tree falls, but a squirrel seemingly instantly jumps on the newly created log. In another one, a long row of religious crowd passes right by the still camera. And Antonius is constantly saying bleak statements: "Faith is a torment. It is like loving someone who is out there in the darkness but never appears, no matter how loudly you call." During the episodic story, Bergman displays the fears of everyone, in the end stating how goodness is the only thing worthy in life. Among the demanding films for intellectuals and serious movie goers, this is one of the most famous ones, ironically, avoiding becoming too morbid.

Grade:+++

2 comments:

Das Weise said...

I disagree with your rating of this film as "excellent". You obviouslyseem to under-credit Bergman's work in the Seventh Seal. Clearly, this work is a true masterpiece for the history of cinema. Films that are rated excellent, would be "Life is Beautiful" whereas the Seventh Seal truly portrays questions about life and God that many ask themselves to this day. This film is considered by many to be one of the deepest and hard to understand completely pieces of cinema in history, giving it the title, a masterpiece.

Marin Mandir said...

All right. I'm aware there are a lot of critics who consider it a masterpiece. Personally, while I do believe it is a deep film, I expected something more. In a way, it was somehow too mild of a film to be consiedered a real masterpiece, but that's just my opinion. One day I should watch it again and judge it based on how it holds up on frequent viewings.