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“The Seventh Seal” — (Bullz-Eye DVD Review)

July 9, 2009


Ingmar Bergman’s 1957 landmark is in many respects the ultimate “arty foreign flick.” Credited with launching the mid-century foreign film craze on college campuses and boho communities around the U.S., Sweden’s “The Seventh Seal” is frequently listed alongside “Citizen Kane,” “The Seven Samurai” and “The Rules of the Game” as one of the top four or five greatest works of film art. It’s also a serious contender for the most parodied film of all time, having been sent up in innumerable places and contexts including Woody Allen’s “Love & Death,” “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey,” and the “Cheating Death” segment of “The Colbert Report.” The downside of its huge artistic rep is that probably no other single film has had to deal with as much of an “eat your vegetables” reputation, so that even some cinephiles approach watching it more as a duty than a pleasure – even though many other art house faves are actually far more unapproachable. It’s gotten to the point where even many serious film fanatics downplay it, avoid it completely, or achieve a kind of super film snob nirvana by looking down their noses at it.

They get away with that last part because of something you’ll never know about “The Seventh Seal” until you actually see it: as death-obsessed, arty foreign flicks go, it’s actually kind of fun. There’s no getting around the portentous stylistic flourishes or the deep dish subject matter – nothing less than the meaning of life and death – but Bergman’s signature film also has its share of risqué knockabout humor, as well as a bit of horror, violence, more than a little melodrama, and some of the most stark black and white imagery ever committed to film. It’s important to realize, though, that this might not actually be Bergman’s best film. Heck, as with any movie, it’s possible you’ll hate it. You have my permission.

The setting is medieval Europe at the time of the devastating Black Plague. Knight Antonius Block (Max von Sydow), who has recently returned from the pointlessly bloody crusades, is confronted by the hooded figure of Death (Bengt Ekerot). It should be curtains, but the warrior insists that, while his body might be afraid, he himself is not. He nevertheless challenges the specter to the most famous board game in movie history — a single game of chess, which he has correctly surmised is Mr. Personified Death’s weakness. The delaying tactic works for the length of the film, as the knight and his cynical squire (Gunnar Björnstrand) have a series of encounters, all variously dealing with the subject of life and its inevitable end, as plague-borne hysteria sweeps the land and threatens Jof, a likable actor (Nils Poppe), Mia, his loving wife (Bibi Andersson), and their infant son.



<td style='padding:2px 1px 0px 5px;' colspan='2'Farewell Ingmar Bergman
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  1. Nomi permalink

    Funny, you and Colbert. Thanks.

  2. We try. Thanks.

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