The Seventh Seal – Ingmar Bergman

The Seventh Seal_PosterSet during the time of the Black Death in Europe (mid 14th century), this film begins with a haunting scene of a knight awaking on a beach, to be challenged to a game of chess by the pale, hooded figure of Death: it puts me in mind of that wonderful scene in ‘Jason and Argonauts” where Zeus and Hera are moving the pieces about, which in turn affects the lives of those below. I have always loved that scene and I wonder if the latter was influenced by the former in the use of this analogy.
The film is, as you would imagine, very dark, yet beautifully shot: Max Von Sydow plays the knight, and his striking blond features look wonderful juxtaposed against the darkness of the rest of the film. Bergman based the film on his own play, ‘Wood Painting’,  and the title refers to a passage from the Book of Revelation, used to bookend the film:  “And when the Lamb had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour” (Revelation 8:1). Here the motif of silence refers to the “silence of God” which is a major theme of the film. Death is also prominent motif in the film, the premise being that we go about our lives without the consideration that death could be around the corner. Cheerful stuff.
Rightly considered a classic of world cinema, this film established Bergman as a world-renowned director and it contains many iconic scenes that have often been mimicked through parodies and homages. It also marks the beginning of what is known as Bergman’s “faith cycle”, films in which he explores the “silence of God” and the deterioration of his Christian faith, a theme that continues in The Silence, Through a Glass, Darkly, and Winter Light.Although a dark and disturbing film, it contains some amazingly beautiful scenes. Bergman took his inspiration from medieval art, especially the painting of a man playing chess with a skeletal Death that was inspired by a medieval church painting from the 1480s by Albertus Pictor.

The Seventh Seal (50th Anniversary Special Edition) [1957] [DVD]

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