Sunday, July 22, 2007

Pantheon movie of the month - THE SEVENTH SEAL/DET SJUNDE INSEGLET

THE SEVENTH SEAL is a cinematic master-piece that brings with it a heavy reputation and iconic imagery. Ingmar Bergman's conceit is to have Antonius Block - a Swedish crusader returning home to a plague-torn country - play a game of chess against Death. If Antonius Block (Max von Sydow) can beat Death (Bengt Ekerod) at chess, he will be given another chance at life. However, Block does not want life for it's own sake. Rather, he just needs more time to discover whether God exists. After fighting a bloody religious crusade has has lost his faith. But he does not want to regain his faith: this time, faith will not be enough; he wants absolute knowledge.

Some may find the subject matter and the film's very reputation off-putting. But let me reassure you that THE SEVENTH SEAL is not a dry philosophical discourse. In fact, it has incredibly funny passages. Antonius Block may be travelling through a plague-torn land, but it is also a land of jesters, madrigals, ribald songs, drunken fights and cuckolds. Rude songs raise a laugh, but they lift the mood on a more profound level too. It is a relief after the self-flagellating Block to see the loving happy couple, Jof and Mia (Nils Poppe and Bibi Andersson) and their baby son.

My interpretation of the film is, therefore, a fundamentally optimistic one. Maybe you can never get an answer about whether God exists. Maybe barbaric acts happen in this world. (Certainly the scene of the witch being tortured and Jof being bullied in the tavern are excruciating to watch.) But life goes on, happy and full, for some. And we can all snatch and treasure moments of happiness.

Even Antonius Block must admit: "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."

THE SEVENTH SEAL was originally released in 1957 and won the Special Jury Prize at Cannes. It is currently on re-release in the UK and is available on DVD.

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