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 *

Recently on Ink 19...

  • Southern Accents 55
    Southern Accents 55

    A woofin’ good time with cuts from Hank Williams, Muddy Waters, Delta Moon and more from KMRD 96.9, Madrid, New Mexico!

  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
    Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

    Absurdism with a healthy dose of air conditioning.

  • Mixtape 172 :: My Old Bassist
    Mixtape 172 :: My Old Bassist

    Like pre-teens throwing every liquid into the kitchen blender and daring each other to drink the results, Woody and Jeremy fuse all manner of sounds legitimate and profane into some murky concoction that tastes surprisingly good.

  • Demons/Demons 2
    Demons/Demons 2

    Synapse Films reissues Lamberto Bava’s epic ’80s gore-filled movies Demons and Demons 2 in beautiful new editions.

  • Sylvie Courvoisier and Mary Halvorson
    Sylvie Courvoisier and Mary Halvorson

    Searching for the Disappearing Hour (Pyroclastic Records). Review by Bob Pomeroy.

  • Payal Kapadia
    Payal Kapadia

    Earlier this year, director Payal Kapadia was awarded the Oeil d’or (Golden Eye) for best documentary at the 74th Cannes Film Festival for her debut feature, A Night of Knowing Nothing. Lily and Generoso interviewed Kapadia about her poignant film, which employs a hybrid-fiction technique to provide a personal view of the student protests that engulfed Indian colleges and universities during the previous decade.

  • Roger’s and Hammerstein’s Cinderella
    Roger’s and Hammerstein’s Cinderella

    A classic children’s tale re-imagined by America’s greatest composers.

  • Taraka

    Welcome to Paradise Lost (Rage Peace). Review by Bob Pomeroy.

  • AFI Fest 2021
    AFI Fest 2021

    The 2021 edition of the American Film Institute’s Festival, was a total success. After mounting a small virtual festival in 2020, AFI Fest came roaring back this year with a slate of 115 films representing over fifty countries. Lily and Generoso rank their favorite features from this year’s festival which include new offerings from Céline Sciamma, Miguel Gomes, and Jacques Audiard.

  • Comet Of Any Substance
    Comet Of Any Substance

    Full Of Seeds, Bursting With Its Own Corrections (COAS). Review by Carl F. Gauze.

From the Archives