Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Seventh Seal

Ingmar Bergman is considered one of the best and most influential filmmakers of the last century. But because his films are old and Swedish, I haven't seen any of them before. The Seventh Seal is probably his most acclaimed, featuring still-iconic imagery like a knight's chess match with Death and being a surprisingly good watch today, over fifty years after its release. I expected something perhaps a bit meandering and atmospheric, lingering on endless shots of landscapes or something, but it's really just a character driven spiritual drama at its core. The two main characters are the knight Antonius and his squire Jöns, the former played by Max von Sydow who's still a great screen presence today, although the latter might actually be a more interesting figure in this movie. They accompany a troupe of actors while on their way home from a Crusade, while Antonius struggles over his loss of faith in God. You'd think being met in person by Death himself would help that out, but he still wrestles with it while fighting for his soul in a game of chess which carries out over the course of the film.

Besides that the plot is a bit light, introducing a variety of characters but not really having a ton for them to do. There's a few scuffles that get violent, and brief subplots by one of the actor's supposed heavenly visions, but the only real conflict in the movie is Antonius fight for his soul and those of his comrades. The rest of the movie fails to get too boring though, with Jöns rescuing a couple people from harm, giving his own unique view on life and generally just keeping the movie from getting too heavy. There's a surprising amount of enjoyable dialogue, and the Swedish itself isn't unpleasant to listen to. Really, what I'm getting at is that while I wasn't fully struck by the film's supposed awe-inspiring power, it was still very well made and more enjoyable than I expected. Not that it wasn't effective at all with the real subject matter, and in fact the climactic scene is pretty amazing even today. You never see what the characters see, but their complete fright and devastation is obvious. Certainly worth seeing for fans of world cinema.

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