Tuesday, 21 July 2015

I've Just Seen: The Seventh Seal (1957)

The Seventh Seal (Det sjunde inseglet) (1957)

Director: Ingmar Bergman
Writer: Ingmar Bergman, from his play Tramalning

The Middle Ages has always fascinated me: I studied its history and literature at university, and even did a year of Latin, thinking I might become a historian. That clearly did not happen. However, my interest still exists, and I always look out for films that depict the era. Unfortunately (for me, at least), most films about the era are unsatisfying; one day I shall go into why I think that. But having seen other Bergman films, and knowing The Seventh Seal's reputation, I felt that I could expect an interesting portrayal of the era. I was not disappointed.

This film is famous for the scene of Death and the knight playing chess; the scene looks grim and depressing. The existential crisis at the film's centre also creates expectations of dark reflections from Bergman. So imagine my surprise when there were moments of humour and levity, even joy in the film. The whole story blended theology, humour, death and sex, and used metaphor, in a way reminiscent of Chaucer, one of my favourite writers.

Gunnar Fischer's black-and-white cinematography is wonderful, complementing Bengt Ekerot's Death. Max Von Sydow is good as the knight desperately wanting to know if God really exists. For me this ranks up high with Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev, another thoughtful depiction of the Medieval period. This is going on my Favourite Films list.


  1. I admit I was a little scared of this film going into it because I thought it would be entirely over my head. I was pleasantly surprised at how accessible it turned out to be.

    It moved immediately to the top of my favorite Bergman films and it hasn't budged.

    1. That's exactly how I feel about this film. I am enjoying Bergman's films: of the few I have seen, this and Skammen are my favourites of his (I haven't yet seen Persona).

  2. Sounds familiar.
    I have a penchant for the very early medieval period (476 to 900), but have found very few movies from this era. Of course there are very few sources, but at as it is a time of legends there should be plenty of source material. I would love to see a movie following the exploits of the Ostrogoths or the Visigoth. The invasion of Spain in 711 would make an excellent tale or a Game of Thrones like series based on Charlemagne and his sons. Early Venice would make a great backdrop and the capture of Skt Marcus from Alexandria an awesome tale.
    The plague years were scary and apparently a favorite for apocalyptic stories. This is definitely one of the more effective ones.

    1. Always nice to know there are other medievalists out there! I'd say my penchant is the High Middle Ages, but you are right about the early period; the flux of culture and society would be a great setting for a film.