Rod Sedgwick’s review published on Letterboxd:
''I met Death today. We are playing chess.''
Ingmar Bergman's 1957 hallowed masterpiece The Seventh Seal seems to exist in a pantheon of cinema greatness that is universally adored and cherished, with its iconic symbolism and imagery imprinted on the minds and hearts of Cinephiles across all matter of time and space. As I ventured into my third viewing (the first in more than ten years), I was curious to discover whether the acclaim was still warranted, of which the answer was unequivocally “Yes!”
I recently saw mentioned that Bergman's film Winter Light (made five years after this), is a modern retelling of the same themes in many ways, which is very astute considering what we know of the revered auteur's personal struggle with divine faith, and that really is the essence of both Max Von Sydow's and Gunnar Björnstrand's protagonist in each film respectively. The burden of faith in the unseen is so heavy, that it serves only to inflict guilt and suffering on those who seek it. A dense cloud of apocalyptic doom looms heavily over The Seventh Seal as we are thrust into a world of religious disharmony and disillusionment via The Crusades and the battle between paganism and orthodox religion, the black plague is seen as a scourge from God himself, and witch burnings spread fear throughout the land. Antonius himself is waging a strategic battle of chess with the spectre death in all its iconic glory, and who can forget the final 'Dance of death' seen across the skyline by the purest souls traversing this dour landscape in Mia and Jof (or Mary and Joseph - hardly a coincidence).
Amongst all the misery on display, I had forgotten how humorously satirical and endlessly entertaining the film actually is, with Gunnar Björnstrand's cynical squire providing a black shade of humour to the proceedings: ''I could very well have raped you, but between you and me, I'm tired of that kind of love.'', is just one of the many occasions of laughter I derived from the sharp and surprising script, but we are always brought back to the deeper existential musings with Antonius: ''Faith is a torment. It is like loving someone who is out there in the darkness but never appears, no matter how loudly you call.'' to create a perfectly weighted balance to the tone of the piece. One of my favourite scenes, is a moment of pure respite and one of the most Godly moments of love and fellowship in a world that seems to have forgotten the meaning of it, and that is the gathering of the small party outside of town where wild strawberries and milk are shared as a ray of sunshine brightens things for just a few minutes of screen time, Antonius utters: ''I shall remember this moment: the silence, the twilight, the bowl of strawberries, the bowl of milk. Your faces in the evening light. Mikael asleep, Jof with his lyre. I shall try to remember our talk. I shall carry this memory carefully in my hands as if it were a bowl brimful of fresh milk. It will be a sign to me, and a great sufficiency.'', and herein lies the beauty and wonder of Bergman.
From the luminous beauty of Bibi Andersson, to the spectacular lighting and monochrome photography, to the memorable character interaction, to the portentous apocalyptic quotations from the book of Revelations, there is so much magnificence to behold and adore. The film reverberates long after the credits roll, and it's iconic status is rightfully steadfast on the cinematic landscape.
''We must make an idol of our fear, and call it god.''