Re-Viewed – The Seventh Seal (1957)
A knight, Antonius Block (Max von Sydow), returns with his squire from the Crusades to plague-ridden Sweden and find himself questioning God, faith and his own mortality. Determined to cheat the ever-present Death, he offers him a wager: if Block triumphs at chess, Death will give him a second chance at life. As they travel towards Block’s home, they encounter, amongst others, a troupe of actors, a murderous rapist and a young woman condemned to burn as a witch. Each of these encounters changes Block, revealing more of God and of himself.
Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, beloved of movie critics, is a visually stunning work of art. Every frame is beautifully constructed, from the iconic picture of Black playing chess with Death to the closing tableau of the Dance of Death. The intellectual challenge of spotting every symbolic nuance that Bergman added is fulfilling enough but add to that the warmth of the performances, especially those of the squire Jöns (Gunnar Björnstrand bringing welcome humour to the film), the small family of actors (especially Nils Poppe and Bibi Andersson) and surprisingly, Bengt Ekerot making Death playful, sneaky but not malevolent. Von Sydow’s task is not an easy one – his knight is tortured and dour, unsympathetic to the viewer and it is only in the final moments of the film that he finds redemption and peace.
The Seventh Seal inveigles itself into the viewer’s mind, making a second viewing essential. How many other films can say that?