A knight returns from the Crusades to find that his home country of Sweden being ravaged by the plague. Unfortunately for him, Death wants to take the knight into the afterlife but challenges a game of chess to determine his fate. Stalling Death along the way, he befriends a family of travelling actors but sometimes destiny is too much to run away from.
Won the Jury Special prize award at the 1957 Cannes Film Festival
REVIEW:Rightly regarded as one of the finest films ever to be put onto celluloid, THE SEVENTH SEAL is more of the well-known Bergman movies that he directed in his distinguished career. One of the opening scenes of the knight Antonius Block playing chess with Death in front of the midnight tide is one of the most iconic scenes in cinema. But, like with all great movies which include classic scenes as such, it has much more to offer than that.
Man Von Sydow here excels in a part what is the best Iíve seen him appear in. His long, chiselled face which seems so sharp at times you could sharpen blunt instruments on them seems to react with the dark scenes he finds himself in. Even when he is found in a sunny environment, it seems oddly out of place in this positive place. Von Sydow was for a time Bergmanís male muse and from his performance here you can see why.
Bjornstand as Blockís assistant, serf if you like, must be applauded too. Here, he acts the tough guy around many but when he is near Block he is as peaceful as a pussycat. The mark of a great actor trying to portray a tough character is in the facial expressions, and this reviewer has to admit that with one menacing glance I was scared out of my pants.
Although the other actors in THE SEVENTH SEAL are certainly worth their salt, in particular the family of travelling actors, it is Bergman here who is the real star of the movie.
Bergman really does show the mark of a great director. Well, you donít need me to tell you that. His use of light, for example, demonstrates the technical excellence that this individual had which outshone his then-contemporaries and, some might argue, even todayís directors. But, as with a number of his movies set during the past, it is the historical paranoia which Bergman excels at.
The Bubonic Plague was like nothing the world had seen before. It attacked anybody and anyone; no-one seemed safe. Folk believed they were being punished for sins they thought to have carried out, when instead it was fleas on rats. In THE SEVENTH SEAL, the group of people we are introduced to really are concerned about whether they will survive this horrific disease. They constantly refer to God, asking if He could help them in their hour of need. Despite their pleasant looking surroundings, Bergman shoots his cast that well that, fifty years on, the film has an almost ghost-like presence.
Fifty-two years has passed since THE SEVENTH SEAL was released. Many films made during this time have not stood the test of time; this movie is definitely not one of those. A classic? Damn right it is.