Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 4/4/07 w/ Additional Edits.
Written and directed by Bergman, Det Sjunde Inseglet (The Seventh Seal) tells the story of a medieval knight who goes on a journey in a plague-ridden landscape when he encounters Death. In order to continue his life, he plays a game of chess with Death while they talk about existence and other issues during his journey to return to his castle. Considered to be one of Bergman's most seminal and iconic films, Det Sjunde Inseglet is a film that would not only change the way that cinema looked but also presented new themes. Starring Max Von Sydow, Gunnar Bjornstrand, Bengt Ekerot, Bibi Andersson and Nils Poppe. Det Sjunde Inseglet is a brilliant yet haunting film from Ingmar Bergman.
Returning home from the Crusades, a knight named Antonius Block (Max Von Sydow) and his squire Jons (Gunnar Bjornstrand) arrive onto their homeland to find that it's been ravaged by the Plague. Upon their arrival, Block encounters Death (Bengt Ekerot) who has been stalking him. Knowing that his time is up, Block asks Death to give him time for a long game of chess while going on a journey to his castle home to reunite with his wife Karin (Inga Landgre). Meanwhile, a circus troupe led by Jof (Nils Poppe), his wife Mia (Bibi Andersson), their baby son Michael (Tommy Karlsson), and director Skat (Erik Strandmark) are hoping to make a journey to the south as Jof claims to see a vision of the Virgin Mary. Block continues his journey where he stops to a town to question his faith and existence where he continues to be stalked by Death. Jons meanwhile, has a talk about life and existence with a painter (Gunnar Olsson) about the dark images the painter has made.
After encountering a young woman (Maud Hansson) who is claimed to be a witch, Block and Jons continue their journey into town when Jons enters a home to stop a man named Raval (Bertil Anderberg) from hitting a young woman (Gunnel Lindblom). Jons makes the young woman his new love while the circus troupe arrive to perform with a lukewarm reception. Skat attracts the attention of a young woman named Lisa (Inga Gill) who is the wife of a blacksmith named Plog (Ake Fridell). After they ran off, Plog is upset as he and Raval try to humiliate Jof only to be saved by Jons. Block meets Mia as they're later joined by Jons, the young woman, and Jof. A discussion about life and faith is reveled while Block continues to play the game of chess with Death. Telling Jof that going south is a bad idea because the Plague is still running, they make their journey. Joining them is a distraught Plog where they encounter Skat and Lisa. Lisa joins the group on the journey as Skat is left behind.
On their journey to Block's castle, they see the woman who is claimed to be a witch where Block asks her about the Devil. After seeing her to be burned, the dread of Death haunts the travelers as Block becomes aware that he is running out of time for this big game of chess against Death.
While this film's plot is simple about a knight who challenges Death to a game of chess while going into a journey home in order to strategies their moves. This film is really about a disillusioned knight and his squire seeking answers that are existential and questions faith. The squire Jons brings a very cynical yet intelligent view on life including women and faith with Block being desperate for some kind of answer. Even if it's from someone as full of life and hope in Jof who is very high on his faith. Ingmar Bergman definitely tries to bring more questions than answer leading to opening interpretation while creating characters that are very real and direct about their own life.
While it's based partially on one of his plays, Det Sjunde Inseglet is really a haunting yet entrancing film with images and compositions that sends chills to its audiences. The scenes that Bergman sets up from a crucifixion sequence with these haunting images of black and white to its last moment when Block finishes his game of Chess with Death. Even the final scenes have a moment of both hope and sadness in relation to what Death wants. The girl that Jons picks up only says one line throughout the film which signifies the acceptance of the fate of Block and his fellow travelers. While it's unclear whether Bergman is more about fact or faith, he doesn't criticize neither rather than allowing the audience their view. Yet, the spirituality of the film is very serious and direct where Bergman shows how people take their faith seriously. The character of Jof, unlike the more cynical Jon, is a more optimistic figure who seeks some hope not for himself but also his family. The result is an engaging yet haunting masterpiece by Ingmar Bergman.
Cinematographer Gunnar Fischer's amazing photography in black-and-white is wonderfully stylized while adding the sense of dread to the film. The use of black in some of the costumes, notably the presence of Death in the first shot is just amazing. With its gray background and they Death looks in the composition is just beautiful. Even one of the film's final shots that was widely improvised is just worth noting for its mix of gray and black. Production designer P.A. Lundgren brings a lot to the film's look with its painting in the church to the medieval look of the film. Costume designer Manne Lindholm also does great work for the circus clothing to the cloak of Death with makeup artist Nils Nittel also giving Ekerot his unique look. Editor Lennart Wallen does some wonderful, dissolve cuts to move the film's sequence as well as some wonderful shifts during a scene to convey the sense of suspense. Wallen along with Aaby Wedin does some excellent work in capturing the atmosphere with the noise of winds in the film's later sequences that adds to the dread. Music composer Erik Nordgren adds to the suspense with his wonderful score while being more plaintive in some of the film's peaceful sequences.
The film's cast is wonderfully amazing with notable small performances from Bertil Anderberg as the brutal Raval, Inga Landgre as Block's loyal wife, Inga Gill as the sensual Lisa, Maud Hansson as the accused witch, Ake Fridell as the distraught blacksmith Plog, Gunnar Olsson as the haunted painter, and Erik Strandmark as the adulterous Skat. Gunnel Lindblom is great as the silent young woman who observes everything, even a scene involving a plague-ridden man while having one famous line in one of the film's final scenes. Nils Poppe is great as the hopeful, faith-driven Jof whose claims of visions and optimism brings a balance to the cynicism that Gunnar Bjornstrand brings as the squire Jon. Bjornstrand is just great in bringing the cynicism along with his distaste for women. Bergman regular Bibi Andersson is great as the hopeful Mia who is pondering her own child's future while bringing the sense of comfort for Block. Bengt Ekerot is wonderful as Death with his eerie presence and intelligence as the Grim Reaper while having a funny moment in a great scene. Max Von Sydow is amazing as Antonius Block with his hardened, moody performance as a man trying to find answers.
Det Sjunde Inseglet became an international hit where it won the Jury Prize at the 1957 Cannes Film Festival. The success of the film brought Bergman international attention while a year later, the film reached the U.S. as did his follow-up Wild Strawberries. The film is often regarded as a milestone and landmark for European cinema. Not only has this film become a requirement for film studies but also had been parodied in the comedies of Woody Allen as well as blockbusters like Last Action Hero and Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey. Still, Det Sjunde Inseglet remains one of the most brilliant films ever made. Anyone looking for an introduction to Ingmar Bergman will no doubt find this as a great place to start. It raises a lot of existential questions as well as questions of spirituality. For a film that haunts its audience while intriguing them, Det Sjunde Inseglet is the film to see.
Ingmar Bergman Films: (Crisis) - (It Rains on Our Love) - (A Ship to India) - (Music in Darkness) - (Port of Call) - (Prison) - (Thirst (1949 film)) - (To Joy) - (This Can’t Be Happen Here) - (Summer Interlude) - Secrets of Women - Summer with Monika - Sawdust and Tinsel - A Lesson in Love - Dreams (1955 film) - Smiles of a Summer Night - (Mr. Sleeman is Coming) - Wild Strawberries - (The Venetian) - (Brink of Life) - (Rabies) - The Magician - The Virgin Spring - The Devil’s Eye - Through a Glass Darkly - Winter Light - The Silence - All These Women - Persona - (Stimulantia-Daniel) - Hour of the Wolf - (Shame (1968)) - (The Rite) - The Passion of Anna - (The Touch) - Cries & Whispers - Scenes from a Marriage - (The Magic Flute) - (Face to Face) - (The Serpent’s Egg) - Autumn Sonata - From the Life of the Marionettes - Fanny & Alexander - (After the Rehearsal) - (The Blessed Ones) - (In the Presence of a Clown) - (The Image Makers) - Saraband
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