The Seventh Seal: What are the greatest films ever made?

Max von Sydow

Max von Sydow *is* Antonius Block

[Antonius Block and Death sit down to play chess. Block conceals a different coloured piece of in each  hand and lets Death choose to decide who plays which colour]
Antonius Block: You drew black.
Death: Appropriate, don’t you think?

Most of what I knew about Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal was learned from one of the Bill and Ted films (still Keanu Reeves’s finest hours) where the boys play Twister, Battleships and other games with Death, recognisable by his black cloak, white face and scythe.

As it turns out The Seventh Seal has its own moments of high comedy that offer moments of hope and light in what is otherwise an incredible but dark and gloomy Northern European view of life, meaning, religion and the futility of existence. The contrasting viewpoints are brought to the fore by Gunnar Fischer‘s incredible cinemaphotography.

Somewhere on the DVD extras there’s a quote from Bergman about how The Seventh Seal is actually a road movie. This is partly true and post-viewing does give you a framework in which to try and make sense of what to the multiplex generation must be a very very strange movie.

The opening of the film finds the knight and his squire seemingly washed up on a deserted beach and the film follows their quest to return home from their previous journey to the Crusades, where they have been for the last ten years.

It has Western overtones and there’s something of John Wayne or Jimmy Stewart about Max von Sydow‘s knight (but only if Klaus Kinski had played them. Now there’s a thought – it’s called Aguirre).

The title comes from the Book of Revelations and the film opens and closes with the quote: “And when the Lamb had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour”.

It’s not quite like anything else I’ve seen and comes highly recommended.

Footnote: Inspired by the fun I had watching this undoubted classic I have now pledged to watch all of the films on the BFI’s 50 Greatest Films Ever list in the coming year. Sadly (and unbelievably) The Seventh Seal doesn’t make the list so there are still 50 films to see.) NB: WordPress lost the original version of this post and I have tried to recreate it as best as I can. Naturally, the lost post was a masterpiece. Now a lost masterpiece.

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One comment

  1. Pingback: BFI Top 50 Greatest Films ever: No 39 – The 400 Blows (Les quatre cents coups) | paulmurphyx

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