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Det Sjunde inseglet (1957)

The Seventh Seal

Directed by:

Ingmar Bergman

Rating: 9/10

Running Time: 96 minutes

UK Certificate: PG

On DVD

Country: Sweden

Antonius Block, Max von Sydow’s character in ‘The Seventh Seal’, reminds me a little bit of The Proclaimers. It’s not because he’s a pair of identical twins with bottle-thick specs and heavy Leith accent – he’s not. That would just be weird. No, it’s because they once released a song called ‘I Want to be a Christian’, and it’s a problem that Block seems ideally positioned to relate to.

It’s the Middle Ages, and Block is a knight who’s spent the best part of the last decade battling in the Crusades, and finds his homeland ravaged by the dreaded plague upon his return. Now, having never clapped eyes on God, he finds himself questioning his beliefs – so, when Death pays him a visit (literally), our hero sees an opportunity. He challenges the cloaked one to a game of chess, hoping to buy himself just enough time to find out the meaning of life and secrets of the universe. It’s wishful thinking though, as Death turns out to be quite a skilful chess player – even if he does say so himself. And a fantastic lover as well, no doubt.

Ingmar Bergman’s masterpiece is completely unlike anything that gets made today. It’s incredibly direct in its treatment of the subject matter, not just implying the presence of death, but showing him as an actual physical character (played here by Bengt Ekerot). The film is beautifully shot, but everything we’re shown has its purpose, every character has a point, and every line of tremendous (and often surprisingly funny, in an extremely dark sort of way) dialogue is there for a reason. Perhaps that’s how it manages to be over and done with in little over 90 minutes. After all, if a similar project was to be put to film nowadays, you can’t help but feel it would be one of those over-blown two-and-a-half-hour jobs.

It’s not the sort of film that’ll be to everyone’s tastes, and upon first viewing some may even find it a little overwhelming. But it’s one that everybody should at least give a chance – it’s hugely original, fantastically directed, well acted and, importantly, makes good use of humour to prevent itself from coming across as pretentious. A real landmark piece of filmmaking.

It's Got: One of the most annoying songs you’ll ever hear, including lines about a horse crowing in a tree and “The Black One” farting on the beach. Talk about lost in translation!!

It Needs: Death to stop blowing his own trumpet. You’re not THAT good at chess, matey. Or Twister either, if the ingenious bit of spoofery in ‘Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey’ is anything to go by.

DVD Extras A preview of Tartan Video’s ‘Bergman Collection’, stills gallery, some film notes written by Bergman himself, some more film notes written by film buff bloke Ronald Bergen, and filmographies. DVD Extras Rating: 4/10

Alternatives:

Persona

Summary

Classic Death.

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