The Seventh Seal (1957)

During the plague-ravaged middle ages, a knight buys time for himself by playing chess with Death in Bergman’s much-imitated arthouse classic.

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Film details

Alternative titles

  • Det sjunde inseglet Original Swedish
  • Riddaren och Döden Working Swedish

Introduction

“The Seventh Seal survives as a compelling, if obsessive film, visually beautiful but permeated by the lighter as well as the darkest aspects of religious experience.”

Roger Manvell, International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, 1990

Bergman’s allegory about a medieval knight (Max von Sydow) who plays chess with Death (a white-faced, shrouded figure played by Bengt Ekerot) was a landmark of arthouse cinema in the late 1950s. Taking its title from the Book of Revelation, the film examines the knight’s crisis of faith during a dark period of human history, tackling issues of existential doubt and despair that touched a nerve with audiences living in the aftermath of the horror of war.

Filmed in sombre black and white by Bergman’s then-regular cinematographer, Gunnar Fischer, The Seventh Seal convincingly evokes a 14th-century of dread and superstition and abounds with startling apocalyptic imagery, from a black bird on the wing against stormy skies to the final, silhouetted danse macabre on a hilltop.

Bergman returned to the middle ages for his Academy Award-winning 1962 allegory The Virgin Spring, again starring Max von Sydow.

Cast & Credits

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