The Seventh Seal

The Seventh Seal

The Seventh Seal

directed by Ingmar Bergman

starring Max von Sydow, Bengt Ekerot, Gunnar Björnstrand

Janus Films / Svensk Filmindustri

By now we all know that the Middle Ages were a time of hunger, disease, and death, and that the shining armor and castles and women and wimples were rare, if they existed at all. The central visual conceit of this classic B&W is a disillusioned veteran of the crusades (Max von Sydow) and his squire (Gunnar Björnstrand) returning to a land emptied by the plague. Von Sydow is tall and Aryan and consumed with visions of death, and death personified (Bengt Ekerot) appears to him as a sinister monk intoning “It is your time.” Busy as he is these days, Death agrees to play chess to delay von Sydow’s inevitability. Squire Jöns is more concerned with the world here and now, and he has to fetch water and ask direction from the dead along the path. At a small church they meet a morbid painter, a young woman condemned to burn for witchcraft and a traveling acting troupe (Nils Poppe, Bibi Andersson, and Erik Strandmark). As they all travel toward von Sydow’s castle, they see and contemplate the faces of death and its inevitability and von Sydow mutters: “We must make an idol of our fear and call it God.” Shortly thereafter, the man in black knocks and the film ends. There are no credits; names are for the living and the souls of the dead flee as the film’s leader runs out and slaps against the take up reel.

While some claim this film is as slow as paint drying, it moves forward with a dark humor and a pacing typical of foreign films. As the squire and a blacksmith commiserate about women, the squire advises, “It’s hell with women and hell without. Best to kill them all while the fun lasts,” and a church painter offers, “A skull is more interesting than a naked woman.” But the heart of the film is the existentialist question of “Why are we all here?” It’s a question that consumed the world in the aftermath of the two great wars of the 20th century, and the life’s work of writers like Camus and Sartre. The Seventh Seal contributes as much of an answer as the endless prose of the French with the same conclusion — we don’t really know until we face our own checkmate.

What stays with you isn’t the Big Question or its manifold answers. It’s the look Bergman establishes in their black and white world. Clouds pop out from the sky, the players move inside of carefully crafted frames of rock and trees, and the dead and living assume a madness and dignity no demon can take from them. The squire has a neat scar running though his tightly shorn hair, von Sydow looks sallow and troubled, the actors live in their tights, and the peasants look filthy and vermin infested. But why scratch the flea bite? It will accomplish nothing, and you’ve seen this montage in another theater. It’s Monty Python and the Holy Grail without the coconuts.

This film was screened at the Enzian Theater, Maitland, FL.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply

Recently on Ink 19...

  • Preservation Hall Jazz Band
    Preservation Hall Jazz Band

    So It Is (Legacy). Review by Bob Pomeroy.

  • From Montenegro to Moldova: The Best of SEEFest 2017
    From Montenegro to Moldova: The Best of SEEFest 2017

    For the twelfth year, the South East European Film Festival (SEEfest) in Los Angeles showcased an impressive lineup of new features and shorts. Lily and Generoso Fierro provide a festival wrap up and their picks for the films that you cannot miss.

  • Justin Townes Earle
    Justin Townes Earle

    Kids In The Street (New West Records). Review by James Mann.

  • Christian Scott
    Christian Scott

    Rebel Ruler (Ropeadope / Stretch Music). Review by Bob Pomeroy.

  • Kivanç Sezer
    Kivanç Sezer

    Turkish director Kivanç Sezer’s powerful debut feature, My Father’s Wings, puts the spotlight on the workplace safety crisis that is currently taking place in his homeland. Lily and Generoso Fierro spoke with Sezer at SEEFest 2017 about his film and his need to draw attention to this issue.

  • Temples

    Supporting their just-released sophomore record, UK synth-pop poster boys, Temples, attracted an SRO crowd to one of Orlando’s premier nightspots.

  • Rat Film
    Rat Film

    Baltimore. Rats. A match made in Maryland.

  • Bishop Briggs
    Bishop Briggs

    Bishop Briggs brings a stacked bill of up and comers to Orlando for a sold-out party at The Social. Jen Cray joins in the fun.

  • Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World
    Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World

    There’s more than black music influencing the evolution of Rock and Roll. Native American rhymes and ideas are every bit as significant, once you know to look for them.

  • Keith Morris
    Keith Morris

    Ink 19 slings a few questions to the punk rock pioneer Keith Morris on Trump, Calexit and looking back.

From the Archives