August 7th, 2007
Swedish director Ingmar Bergman died last week at the age of 89. I had only seen The Seventh Seal, his first great masterpiece, once before; and I was only a puppy at the time. This week I watched it again.
Although it has a reputation as a gloomy existential snore-fest, I found this movie quite simple and rather charming. A knight and his squire return home to Sweden after ten years at the Crusades. Europe is ravaged by the black plague, widely regarded as a sign that the world is coming to an end.
In one of two memorable set pieces, black-cowled Death comes for the knight, but agrees to play a game of chess first. The knight wants to buy a little time so he can try to find out if there is a God or not. He thinks he can trick Death into telling him. The image of the knight playing chess with Death is one of the enduring moments in world cinema.
There isn’t much more to it. The brooding knight and his cynical squire fall in with some actors, a man and wife and their little child, and enjoy a bowl of wild strawberries. There is quite a bit of raucous foolery, Death takes those he must take (in the other great visual set-piece), and for others life goes on.
This film deserves all the praise it has had, and it easily shrugs off all the parodies. One of the greatest of all time.