“The Seventh Seal” (1957) – Movie Review

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Writer/Director:  Ingmar Bergman

Stars:  Max Von Sydow, Bengt Ekerot, Gunnar Bjornstrand, Nils Poppe, Bibi Andersson

The Knight Antonios Block (Max Von Sydow) lies on the sand of a beach; his squire Jons (Gunnar Bjornstrand) sleeps by the edge of the forest.  As Block washes his face he is approached by a man in a black robe, Death (Bengt Ekerot).  Through his conversation with Death, Block is able to buy time while he and Death play a game of chess through the remainder of his journey home.

In a field Joseph (Nils Poppe) leaves the confines of the a traveling wagon to get air, and in the process sees a vision of the Virgin Mary.  Excited, he awakes his wife Mary (Bibi Andersson) while their toddler son Michael sleeps to share his vision.  She humorously complains about his constant visions.  Skat, the lead performer in their troop also awakens and is in a foul mood.

Eventually the stories of Block & Jons and Joseph & Mary become intertwined, and grow to include a few others in their journey together.  All the while Block continues to play his game with Death.  But eventually Block realizes his game is for more than jus his life but also the lives of all that travel with him, including Mary & Joseph and their young son.  Block knows that he cannot beat Death, but how can he cheat him?

Though normally considered a compliment, the look and feel of The Seventh Seal is reminiscent of a Twilight Zone episode.  During the first few scenes of the film I half expected Rod Sterling to come out from behind a tree and deliver his terse narration.  The overall television quality of the production is not helped by the less than stellar acting.  With the exception of Von Sydow as Block and Bjornstrand as Jons, the performances are amateurish and, in the case of Poppe as Joseph, buffoonish.  Also, the depiction of Death is diminished when he is shown actually sawing a tree down in order to claim his charge, as opposed to something more ethereal such as  lifting his cloak to engulf someone in darkness.

The strength of the film is in the dialogue.  By watching the film in Swedish and having to read the subtitles you appreciate the intelligence of the script and the themes being discussed without the distraction of the poor acting.

BLOCK

I want to talk to you as openly as I can, but my heart is empty.

DEATH doesn’t answer.

BLOCK

The emptiness is a mirror turned towards my own face. I see myself in it, and I am filled with fear and disgust.

DEATH doesn’t answer.

BLOCK

Through my indifference to my fellow-men, I have isolated myself from their company. Now I live in a world of phantoms. I am imprisoned in my dreams and fantasies.

DEATH

And yet you don’t want to die.

BLOCK

Yes, I do.

DEATH

What are you waiting for?

BLOCK

I want knowledge.

DEATH

You want guarantees?

BLOCK

Call it whatever you like. Is it so cruelly inconceivable to grasp God with the senses? Why should He hide himself in a mist of half-spoken promises and unseen miracles?

DEATH doesn’t answer.

KNIGHT

How can we have faith in those who believe when we can’t have faith in ourselves? What is going to happen to those of us who want to believe but aren’t able to? And what is to become of those who neither want to nor are capable of believing?

The Seventh Seal is a classic film that does not live-up to its reputation.  Though an intelligent and thought-provoking script, it suffers from poor execution and acting.  If only all the acting was equal to three-quarters of Von Sydow’s performance.

Grade = C

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About VictorsMovieReviews

I love movies. I watch them, read them, and am currently writting one. View all posts by VictorsMovieReviews

6 responses to ““The Seventh Seal” (1957) – Movie Review

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