Original Title: Det sjunde inseglet
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Genre: Drama, Fantasy
10.02.2020: This review was first published on 05.06.2018 and is being updated for a more complete review, together with the publishing of the YouTube Version.
Hello! Welcome to Ulven Reviews!
The Seventh Seal, originally, Det sjunde inseglet, is one of the most known works of the legendary filmmaker Ingmar Bergman. The story of a knight playing chess with Death, in a country devastated by the Black Plague.
World Cup Historic
Sweden’s history in football began with a football league in 1896, and in 1904 their Football Association was founded. They were part of the World Cup since the early days, in 1934, then 1938 and 1950.
In 1958, as the hosts, Sweden got their best result until this day, being the runners-up in the Finals against Brazil. The match finished 5-2 to the visiting side, including two goals from the 17-years-old Pelé.
After not qualifying for the 2010 and 2014 World Cup, and a bad result in the UEFA Euro 2016, Zlatan Ibrahimović, one of the best players in the country’s history, retired from the international stage. But Sweden qualified for the 2018 World Cup even without him.
In Russia, they surprised the World, myself included, with the first place in their group and going all the way to the quarter-finals. After the boring match against Switzerland in the Round of 16, they lost to England in the quarter-finals, 2-nill.
When talking about the Crusades here, we will be talking about the war campaigns backed by the European Christians to conquer Jerusalem. The Crusades happened from the 11th century to the 16th century.
The Black Death, or The Plague, was an epidemic of bubonic plague across Europe and the Middle East. The estimation is that this pest decimated from 30 to 60% of the world population, claiming 75-200 million lives.
Another fundamental topic to be raised here is the burning of witches. The most notorious instance where this practice took place was during the Inquisition, beginning in the 12th Century and going as far as the 20th Century.
The action of burning people alive is much older for reasons that diverge from culture to culture. The Christian practice of murdering people at the stake began in the 7th Century and was a penalty for heresy.
Det sjunde inseglet
The knight Antonius Block (played by Max von Sydow) and his squire Jöns (played by Gunnar Björnstrand) had recently returned to their homeland, back from a 10-year Crusade, when Death itself (played by Bengt Ekerot) approaches Antonius Block, aiming to take him.
To avoid his fate, the Antonius invites the personified Death to a match of Chess, with the condition of being let go by Death, in case he wins. They played it in intervals, during the men’s journey from the shores to the knight’s castle.
On the way to the castle, they meet a girl (played by Gunnel Lindblom) who was almost raped, and she accompanies them into their destiny. Later Jof (played by Nils Poppe) and Mia (played by Bibi Andersson), a couple of itinerant actors, start to travel with the group as well.
In the way, they encounter sickness, atrocities, religious fanatism, and lots of corpses of those annihilated by the plague. But the group hopes to find safety once they reach the castle.
First of all, I’ll try not to go too deep into symbolism and significances, because I don’t feel I’m well prepared for it. I’m sure there are many people and videos dedicated exclusively to this analysis. Now, let’s keep going.
The Seventh Seal has marvelous storytelling, using many fronts to build it. The group’s journey from the shores to the castle is not just literal, but also allegorical reinforced by the chess match with death.
On the course of the quest, the chaos encountered by the group brings the philosophical questions presented by the film. With it, they contemplate life, death, morality, and a lot about god.
As a part of this questionings, we have top-notch dialogues, mainly between Antonius and the Death and Antonius and Jöns. This is the most fascinating aspect of the movie, these inquiries, and doubts from the protagonist, the existential reflection, something that can echo with the viewer.
I could feel sympathy for Antonius’s questioning because everyone has to go through a phase of reflection. Today, I am more like the Jöns character, a cynic, believing in the emptiness, but we never know what the future can bring us.
Another thing they encounter in the journey is the horrors perpetrated by the church. Facing such a destructive plague, the religious people, and the church itself, ask themselves why are god allowing this to happen.
When the church come up with the answer that mankind provoked God’s wrath, they found some scapegoat to perform their atrocities. Processions of flagellants singing Dies Irae, and people accused of witchcraft burning to death. All of it to calm God’s wrath.
Even with all these horrors and thought-provoking talk, the movie is not destitute of humor. Comic relief is usually provided by the couple of actors, Jof and Mia, brilliantly played by Nils Poppe and Bibi Andersson.
The acting is superb from almost everyone, like Gunnar Björnstrand and Bengt Ekerot. But my favorite has to be Max von Sydow as Antonius Block, the only one alive from the main cast since Bibi Andersson’s death last year.
To this day, Max von Sydow is an extremely relevant actor, participating in known titles such as Shutter Island, The Force Awakens, and Game of Thrones. From what I already watched, The Seventh Seal is his best performance, but with more than 150 titles in his resume, I’m far from a definitive conclusion.
The array of expressions and emotions he is capable of portraying in The Seventh Seal is stunning. He’s believable in every single reaction he gives, very human, different than his characters in the most recent roles, with a superhuman vibe.
The acting is not the only thing to make the movie believable. The costumes, haircuts, settings, and even cultural events make you immerse in this convincing medieval world created by Bergman.
We have many gorgeous and iconic shots in the movie. The perfect black and white cinematography make excellent use of the shadows, in a different way than used in the German expressionism, but still delightful.
The procession full of flagellants is one of the most compelling looking scenes in the movie. Many times, the camera stays put, while the people provide all the movement necessary. The use of smoke from the incense gives even more depth and appeal to the scene.
It’s an outstanding movie to talk about with friends, because of the thoughts it evokes. It’s stunning, with masters of the art, in front of, and behind the cameras. It’s one of the best films I had the privilege to watch, an unequivocal 10 Moons.