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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Retro Cut!! THE SEVENTH SEAL (1957) - Ingmar Bergman

Released in 1957, The Seventh Seal is director Ingmar Bergman's most famous and iconic film. Set medieval Sweden, during the time of the Crusades, the film is an allegory on the human condition, and calls into question the existence of God, a question that was very personal for the director. The film centres around a night and his squire returning home from the Crusades. The knight, Antonius Block is confronted on a beach with Death, who has come to claim him. Block challenges Death to a game of chess, with Block's soul being the prize. As the game plays out, Block travels the countryside, witnessing the ravages of the Plague, which is claiming a vast proportion of the people. Along the way, Block and his squire, Jons, encounter a troupe of actors, a blacksmith and his cheating wife, who join their journey, and a witch who is to be burned at the stake after being accused of brining about the plague.

The Seventh Seal is the first of Ingmar Bergman's films I've seen. I thought I'd start with the most famous of his films, and it has been a rewarding experience. From the get go, it's clear this film is going to be abstract. How often in films does the central character decide to play a game against something as intangible as Death?! It's clear from the script that the nature of the existence of God is a big issue for Bergman. The central character of Block is looking for signs of God's existence everywhere he travels. He has seen quite a bit in his travels and has become disillusioned with the purpose of the holy crusade, and it causes him to question his faith. There is little evidence for the existence of God in his travels within the film, and this causes him great sadness. Block is brilliantly portrayed by Max Von Sydow, who you'll recognize as the title character in The Exorcist. The rest of the cast are equally excellent, particularly Gunnar Björnstrand as Block's squire.

Bergman's direction is fantastic. The cinematography is stark and the shots excellently crafted, while the film is heavily symbolic. Scenes swing from very dramatic to comedic, as the themes are played out through the cast of characters. The question of the existence of God is never quite answered fully. While there are fragments of universal truths peppered throughout the film, you get the impression that Bergman never fully answered his own question in the film. However, the journey is the attraction here, and while some may find the religious aspect of the film a little much, the cinematography and craftsmanship of the film are just as much an attraction as the themes themselves.


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