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The Seventh Seal (1957)

DVD Cover (Criterion Collection)
Genres:
Drama, Fantasy, Period Film, Psychological Drama, Religious Horror
Director:
Ingmar Bergman Ingmar Bergman
Starring:
Gunnar Björnstrand Gunnar Björnstrand
Bengt Ekerot Bengt Ekerot
Nils Poppe Nils Poppe
Max von Sydow Max von Sydow
Bibi Andersson Bibi Andersson

8.2 / 10 - Overall Rating

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A Knight and his squire are home from the crusades. Black Death is sweeping their country. As they approach home, Death appears to the knight and tells him it is his time. The knight challenges Death to a chess game for his life. The Knight and Death play as the cultural turmoil envelopes the people around them as they try, in different ways, to deal with the upheaval the plague has caused. --IMDb
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Review by bluemeanie
Added: August 22, 2007
This is a review I have been putting off for a while now. It's the film that made me want to be a filmmaker. It's the film that made me realize how thoroughly visceral movie watching can be, under the right circumstances. When the great Ingmar Bergman passed just recently, it was more than upsetting. With Stanley Kubrick already gone and Michaelangelo Antonioni passing right after Bergman -- all of the silent greats are gone, wherein I mean the directors who took the use of silence in film to a whole new level. Terrence Malick is really the only director left with that kind of credibility, but even he was just following on the heels of Bergman and Antonioni. "The Seventh Seal" is Bergman's masterpiece, and rightfully so. It's a total cinematic experience.

As the Black Death is sweeping the countryside, a knight, Antonius Block (Max Von Sydow) and his squire, Jons (Gunnar Bjornstrand) finally return home, as everything around them suffers from sickness. Almost immediately, Death (Bengt Ekerot) appears and tells the knight that his time is up. Unexpectedly, the knight challenges Death to a Chess match for his life. As the knight and Death sit down for the match, they watch as the country is torn to shreds by this creeping sickness known as the Plague. We are also introduced to a string of individuals, friends and neighbors and a band of actors, who come in and out of the picture, at various points. The film is really just an examination of life and death, the existence of God and finding meaning in the smallest of things.

There has been a lot of dissent over the factual errors in this picture. For starters, the film opens with the knight and his squire returning from battle in the Crusades as the country is being torn apart by the Plague. In reality, the first reported case of the Plague didn't strike Europe until 60 years after the Crusades ended. But, those errors do absolutely nothing to distract from the beauty and the power of this film. Made in 1957, the themes of this film and execution of Bergman are still unmatched by today's standards. Watch the slow gloom that rises throughout this picture, brilliantly captured in performance by Bengt Ekerot, as Death. The cinematography by Gunnar Fischer might easily be the best photography in the history of motion pictures, as it sweeps and conveys all the emotion and uncertainty that is taking place on screen, at any given time. It's lush and beautiful.

The score, by Erik Nordgren, is haunting and sets the mood for the entire film. Bergman's skillfully direction takes that music and turns it into somewhat of an added character to the piece. But, it's the silence that really makes this film explode on all cylinders. Bergman, like Antonioni and Kubrick, understood how powerful silence could be, when implemented in the right way. He understood that sometimes it's what you don't say that makes the biggest impact on an audience. "The Seventh Seal" is his ultimate masterpiece because it sums up those ideologies better than any other film by any other director. Some people would call it experimental and others would call it artsy for the sake of being artsy, or pretentious. I dare you to watch "The Seventh Seal" and find one ounce of pretentiousness spilled anywhere across this picture. I double dare you.

There is a phenomenal Criterion Collection edition of this film on DVD, and I encourage each and every one of you to pick it up. It has some informative extra features and the transfer is beautiful. If you've never checked out anything Bergman has done, this is definitely the film to start with. If you're a fan and love "The Seventh Seal" as much as I do, it's never too late to re-discover. Ever wonder what "Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey" was copying? Every wonder where that guy came from who came off the screen in "Last Action Hero"? Even Woody Allen has parodied this film, so that should go to show you how cemented this picture is in the lexicon of American and international film. "The Seventh Seal" is a true masterpiece, one of the greatest films ever made, and one of the most beautiful testaments to film we have left.

10/10.
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Lucid Dreams #1: Lucid Dreams - added 08/29/2011, 02:06 AM
Slow in some parts, but I agree with your review it was an excellent movie. 8/10
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