The Seventh Seal aka Det sjunde inseglet (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)
Of the many great films directed by Ingmar Bergman The Seventh Seal is one of the most outstanding and celebrated. For those who don’t know please believe me or treat yourselves with Persona, The Virgin Spring, Wild Strawberries, Shame, Fanny and Alexander, Saraband, Winter Light, Cries and Whispers, The Magician, The Silence, Scenes From A Marriage, well I’m not gonna list them all here but just stand far from The Touch which you can read about in the Simply the Worst event at Reverse Shot where they celebrate the worst film of many notable directors.
I remember the first time I read about this film; in medieval Sweden a knight comes back to Scandinavia after a Crusade and meets Death. He proposes to play a game of chess with Death to postpone his eventual journey in the after world. Meanwhile, the knight travels with a showman and his wife. If, like me at the time you haven't seen the film, the poster, any still, and do not know the actors it inspires to an interesting picture.
First, this plot always intrigued me so it was natural that I’d do anything to watch it. It was in October 2002 at the University on a VHS player on a 14 inches TV and crappy earphones. This context gave to the film a special glow of a rare gem to finally been watched and experienced. It was the first Ingmar Bergman film I’ve ever watched. Needless is to say that it was a revelation. A revelation of Scandinavian Cinema, a great master, a great actor Max Von Sydow, and a riveting filmography.
The importance of The Seventh Seal is more than preeminent in the medium, ranked in the Top 250 of IMDb by regular users (a rating system I definitely don’t understand) listed as the 53rd spot of They Shoot Pictures Don’t They?’s 1000 Greatest Films, #35 by critics of the Sight & Sound 2002 poll and #31 on the Directors side. It can go on and on but it was one of the first films to open the door to classic films and foreign films in my early stages of cinephilia.
About the film, in the 1950’s Bergman was directing at the Stockholm Theater during winter and with the same cast he was directing films. During the summer of 1957 Bergman not only directed The Seventh Seal but also his masterpiece Wild Strawberries. It was a great year for Bergman and Cinema too. Interesting fact, despite his widely known pretention, Bergman was somewhat modest about how he liked his films. But his film he likes the most is The Seventh Seal, he said that it is the one that works the best. However, this false modesty isn’t palpable when you watch carefully Bergman’s films, the characters of his contemporary films represent the bourgeoisie and their problems. In The Seventh Seal, the knight represents some kind of bourgeoisie that stands above the showman and the band that follows him. It is interesting to see that it is the responsibility of the knight to protect the lower classes that will however one day meet its end no matter from which class or cast he is from.
There is something about this period in the films of Bergman that transpire something raw or crude and it is in part because of the kind of cinematography made with clear crude lighting and few effects. It is almost as if Bergman liked to show bare human feelings without any useless artifices in natural context and environment. A simplicity in the complexity of his plots and understanding of the storytelling that Cinema requires. By today’s standards The Seventh Seal looks much like a classic almost academic film made by a theatre director. However, the themes and reconstitution of the time is perfect and I wouldn’t trade this film for any contemporary one. Please note: I will defend this statement hardly: The Seventh Seal is a Masterpiece.