Monday, September 7, 2009

The Seventh Seal (1957)


TOP 100 FILMS: #97

Returning home from the Crusade, knight Antonius Block (Max von Sydow) challenges Death to a game of chess, in which he can live as long as he avoids losing, giving him a chance at returning home to his family. Along the way he meets, and picks up other travelers all trying to find their away in the midst of the black plague.

To be honest I've sort of avoided Ingmar Bergman throughout the years, and The Seventh Seal is my first honest dwelling into his films. An insanely well crafted, not to mention dark, look at the human condition, and their struggle to cope with a lack of knowledge of God, The Seventh Seal is a powerful film experience.

Films like this that tend to be interpretational I usually find boring, drawn out, and spend too much time on what isn't there than what is. The Seventh Seal is by all accounts the opposite. Bergman carefully tells his tale as if there is nothing different about it. There's no weird cuts, no over the top scenes meant to cram interpretational down your throat, instead it's a story the viewer is meant to be intrigued by, and interpret later.

I was very wary of Max von Sydow, Gunnar Bjornstrand (as the knight's squite, Jons), and Bengt Ekerot (as Death) from the beginning. Their initial conversations felt off, as if the actors were not yet comfortable with their characters, and it took me a few minutes to get into it. Yet once the first church scene took place I was hooked. The character of Block is so complex, represents so much mental turmoil that continues to plague humanity, it's near impossible to explain just how well done of a character it is.

The variety of characters is backed by Bergman's superior writing and directing builds up any other weaknesses the film may have. The characters are well rounded, easy to relate to, and represent a wide variety of human characteristics throughout modern times. A great masterpiece, something I fully recognize after having seen it.

A true masterpiece from one of the true masters of the directing arts, The Seventh Seal offers a unique story, with all the intellectual challenge you'd ever want.

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