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Reflections of a working writer and reader

 

 

The Seventh Seal – review

In this 1957 film by Ingmar Bergman, a Knight (Max von Sydow with bleached hair) returning from the crusades is shadowed by the figure of Death.

The Seventh Seal has been considered one of the masterpieces of cinema for a long time. But I wondered if I would find it a little embarrassing, its imagery comical, and its subject matter, the silence of God, far too ambitious for the chosen medium.

But I had no need to worry. Bergman was a genius of the cinema and an individualist who made no excuses for his films or for his vision. Without a trace of irony he asks his existential questions with the same simplicity as his hero. And he brings the film to a close with the Knight and the majority of his party being led by Death in a hillside dance.

But the film is actually packed with images. The Knight and his squire team up with a troupe of actors and with others who are trying to escape the plague, including a young couple called Jof and Mia (Joseph and Mary) with their infant son. On their travels through the forest they meet up with priests and penitents into self-flagellation and extreme humility. Later they witness the burning of a young girl suspected of witchcraft. And all the time the Knight and Death are engaged in a game of chess.

My local cinema is showing four Bergman films to mark the director’s death. I missed Sunday’s showing of Saraband, though I considered it one of the best films of 2003. Next up is Wild Strawberries, and then, a little later, Persona. I shall try to see both of them.

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