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Seventh Seal, The
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by Dr. Isaksson

"Let us do the Dance of Death"
4 stars

Ingmar Bergman's 1957 classic "The Seventh Seal" has been beloved by fans of Bergman's films for over 40 years now. The film has a beautiful, symbolic magic which explains it's massive appeal and it's well earned right to be considered one of the classic films in all of cinema.

Filmed in 35 days in the summer of 1956 with a tiny budget and a handful of Bergman's faithful actors, The Seventh Seal tells the story of a Knight, Antonius Block (Max Von Sydow) and his squire (Gunnar Bjornstrand) as they are returning from a ten year absence in the Holy lands fighting the Crusades. It is 14th Century Sweden and the countryside is ravaged by the Black Death. The Knight and Squire pause to rest on the seashore where the figure of Death (Bengt Ekerot) pays the Knight an eerie visit. He comes to claim the Knight who stalls for time by challenging Death to a game a chess. Throughout the game, we are taken into the film where we meet a touring group of entertainers. The goofy and optimistic juggler Jof (Nils Poppe) and his wife Mia (Bibi Andersson), whose character represents untarnished innocence and moral stability. Along the way, we meet a blacksmith Plog (Ake Fridell), his cheating wife Lisa (Inga Gill), and Raval (Bertil Anderberg), a former pupil of the priesthood who has become unsatisfied with his faith.

Throughout The Seventh Seal we are given many moments of these characters hopes and fears, their beliefs and disbeliefs. The uncertainties and the hopes that drive them on. The film is filled with symbolism, (some of which doesn't always pull off the impact it vies for, but it's this iconic look which so many viewers have found powerful and memorable.) Then, ultimately, in the climax of The Seventh Seal, the Knight is defeated in the game of chess and he, as well as his wife, his squire and the others are taken away in a stirring 'Dance of Death' to the Dark Lands. Fortunately the Knight has distracted Death from taking Jof, Mia and their child as well. This act of selflessness is all forfilling for the Knight. It is a true act of meaning which the Knight had been searching for all of his life. And with this deed he can truly become satisfied with the exsistance he had on earth.

The Seventh Seal raises many questions spiritually and emotionally, which seems fitting for a film set in The Dark Ages, where man struggled with plague, faith, disillusionment and the anguish of wondering if the end of days were upon them. The film focuses on these issues very strongly and it's this intensity that effectively mirrors the many dark tales and fables told by true living people of centuries past. Bergman was able to introduce the frantic mode of thought which coursed through the men and women living in a Midevel climate and transfer those feelings of a fearful unknown to his film.

As The Seventh Seal comes to it's amazing climax and Jof sees the vision of the Knight and the others being led away in a procession to the land of death, it understanable why this scene has become one of Bergman's most memorable moments. This scene is beautifully captured by the great cinematography of Gunnar Fischer. (Who was working on his ninth film with Bergman.) The performances by the lead characters are (as always), top quality. Max Von Sydow is perfect as Antonious, his angular features and commanding presence create an amazing image of a knight living in the Dark Ages. Bibi Andersson (in her first major film role), is absolutely beautiful as Mia, the personification of innocence, untarnished by the surrounding hopelessness and fear. These two are the standouts and seeing them here, one can understand why Bergman was to use Von Sydow and Andersson many more times in his future films.

Overall, The Seventh Seal is more of a symbolic film than a character study, as so many of Bergman's later films would be so focused on. So it is wrong to assume that by watching this, you would get a feel for what Bergman's films are like. Ingmar Bergman's films are like chameleons changing colors greatly with each new decade and in my opinion, becoming greater and more free flowing until they reached their peak in the 1970s. It was in this decade that Bergman was able to really show the world what what was inside him and with films like Cries and Whispers and Face to Face, he reached a pinnacle of brilliance that few other directors could ever hope for.

Now back to The Seventh Seal. The strength of this film lies in the many images and questions it offers. Personally for me, I am not as big a fan of the film as so many others are. (It has been a well studied piece of cinema by Film School students.) To claim that it is Bergman's best is something I could never do. But I can see why people have such a love for the film.

It is a strikingly original and thoughtful film where one walks away with questions to ponder and hopefully, an appreciation for life. **** 4 Stars

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originally posted: 09/06/02 07:37:43
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User Comments

11/28/11 mr.mike Very good but I wasn't doing handstands. 4 stars
1/20/09 Arthouse Monkey How can someone rate this with only 4 STARS?? Probably one of the greatest films IN HISTORY 5 stars
11/28/08 Shaun Wallner Awesome Story! 5 stars
3/08/08 Pamela White classic about the plague 5 stars
1/28/08 proper amateur film critic Cinematic masterpiece. Easily, one of the best films ever made 5 stars
10/24/07 Charles Tatum Nicely done, one of Bergman's best 4 stars
4/22/07 Dove Sometimes I lost interest. Sometimes I was watching.Got the point,but too weird to follow. 4 stars
7/17/06 mark seen this 20x and it still unsettles me 5 stars
4/24/06 john bale A masterpiece of Cinema, what unforgettable images in these carefully composed shots. 5 stars
3/30/06 Ademir The best movie of the master Bergman. 5 stars
11/14/04 Jacqueline White Exellent, 5 stars
10/24/04 Silent Watcher Stunning. Deserves every bit of the reputation it's earned. 5 stars
8/05/04 psychotic black dwarf a foundation-shaking experience. quite an accomplishment. 5 stars
6/14/04 MyGreenBed Not big on early era (pre-art) films as this, suffers because of it. Bergman's done better. 3 stars
5/05/04 Sal Manzi Give it a's not too bad 3 stars
12/05/03 Daniel Sjostrom A fantastic film, simply. 5 stars
2/07/02 frank engineer 2 stars
9/24/01 Monster W. Kung Very, very good. 5 stars
6/24/01 R.W. Welch A hauntingly imaginative pic, Bergman's best. 5 stars
5/06/01 Sthenno Overwrought writing and chopped sympolism.Good performances,but not Bergman's Best. 3 stars
9/17/00 JB Boring and pointless. "Best two out of three" Bill and Ted II is much better. 2 stars
7/11/00 Jami Absolutely breathtaking.One of the most beautiful films I have had the pleasure of watching 5 stars
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  16-Feb-1957 (NR)



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