4 November 2000 | jhclues
Compelling Drama From Ingmar Bergman
A compelling contemplation of death and the nature of Man's existence, Ingmar Bergman's `The Seventh Seal' is uncompromising, riveting drama that is every bit as striking conceptually as it is philosophically. In the Fourteenth Century a knight, Antonius Block (Max von Sydow), and his squire, Jons (Gunnar Bjornstrand), have returned after ten years away at the Crusades to their native Sweden, and are beginning their journey home. For Block, it is a pensive time; he is troubled by what he perceives as God's silence, and thirsts for knowledge and some meaning to his life, as well as a resolution of faith, which has deserted him. Jons, meanwhile, is a study in jaded indifference, who believes in nothing beyond the present and whatever his senses and current circumstances dictate. Shortly after their arrival on the coast of Sweden, Death (Bengt Ekerot) comes for Block. But Block strikes a bargain with him, challenging him to a game of chess, to be played as they continue on with their journey. As long as Block prevails, they will go on; if he wins, he will be released. And though Block knows what the outcome must inevitably be, he welcomes Death's acceptance of his challenge, for the game affords him perhaps enough time to fulfill his quest, while adding purpose to what promises to be an arduous trek through a land being ravaged by the Black Plague. Von Sydow brings a commanding presence to the screen as Block, his very countenance bespeaking strength and poise. His subtle, stoic approach to this enigmatic character is captivating, and lends a depth and dignity that makes Block truly memorable. By contrast, Jons' strength seems born of his indifference; he takes things as they come, and is governed by a somewhat fatalistic philosophy. Bjornstrand, a gifted, eloquent actor (and veteran of numerous Bergman films), invests an earthy, gritty quality to Jons that plays effectively opposite von Sydow's more ethereal portrayal of Block. It is significant that in the closing scene the final speech, in the presence of Death, is accorded to Jons; for it elevates the character to a station equal to, if not surpassing, that of the protagonist, Block. The supporting cast includes Nils Poppe (Jof), Bibi Andersson (Mia), Inga Gill (Lisa), Gunnel Lindblom (Girl), Anders Ek (The Monk), Ake Fridell (Plog) and Erik Strandmark (Skat). Written and directed by Bergman, `The Seventh Seal' is a thought provoking, earnest meditation on faith and mortality that is filled with stunning metaphoric and visual images that will forever be indelibly inscribed in your memory. One scene in particular, in which the players link hands and, silhouetted against a twilight sky are led by Death in a dance across the crest of a distant hill, is breathtaking in it's simplicity. It stands (as does this entire film) as an example of why Ingmar Bergman is one of the greatest directors in the history of the cinema. I rate this one 10/10.