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Video Review: The Seventh Seal (1957)

August 19, 2011
  • Dir. Ingmar Bergman
  • Released by AB Svensk Filmindustri
  • Written by Ingmar Bergman
  • Rating ****
Original Laserdicks Review:
 
Max von Sydow ranks as one of the most famous thespians to emerge from Sweden, due largely to his early collaborations with Ingmar Bergman, arguably the most famous director to appear in Sweden. Sydow would later establish himself in American films such as The Greatest Story Ever Told and The Exorcist, but years before he took on the roles of Jesus and Father Merrin, he appeared in his first Bergman film as a knight whose spiritual struggles match those of any subsequent character he played.
 
Det sjunde inseglet (translation: The Seventh Seal) remains famous largely for its iconic chess matches between Sydow’s knight and Death (Bengt Ekerot, who could probably claim the title of the definitive cinematic portrayal of the Grim Reaper), especially since these scenes have been parodied more than any other moment in a Bergman film. Despite the spoofs, the original version remains anything but laughable, carrying the same bleak tone that echoes elsewhere throughout the movie.
 
The Black Plague background enhances the spirit of hopelessness that lingers over the film, but the most haunting element of the movie is its theme that faith is futile and mortality is inescapable. Anyone hoping for an uplifting presentation of religion or the victory of the human spirit will leave disappointed and depressed. Audiences willing to ponder its seemingly nihilistic perspective will find it quite engaging, and Sydow’s star-making performance certainly helps.
 
As to be expected with Bergman, the film’s greatest strength is its visual style. Many of the images, from the chess matches to the final dance, refuse to depart from the viewer’s mind even after years of distance from the movie. Very much an art film, The Seventh Seal dazzles with the compositions while simultaneously engaging its audience with troubling philosophical questions. One does not have to be a snob to appreciate it, but one should not walk into it expecting anything light in tone or weight, either.
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From → Film Criticism

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