Director: Ingmar Bergman
Screenplay: Ingmar Bergman
Starring: Max von Sydow, Bibi Andersson, Gunnar Bjornstrand, Nils Poppe, Bengt Ekerot, Inga Landgre
Running Time: 92 minutes
Genre: Drama, period, religion, allegory
Summary: A medieval knight, Antonius Block (von Sydow), and his cynical squire, Jons (Bjornstrand), return home to Sweden from the Crusades. Disillusioned and suffering a crisis of faith after what he has experienced and witnessed, Block encounters Death (Ekerot) on the shore. Death says that he has come for Block. However Block does not want to go until he has found some kind of meaning to life and concrete evidence of the existence of God, and so he challenges Death to a game of Chess. As the game progresses, Block and Jons travel through a country ravaged by the Black Death (the bubonic plague) and in the grip of religious fervor. Along the way Block meets, among others, a family of actors one of whom, Jof (Poppe), has mystical visions and a witch (Maud Hansson) who is condemned to death, as he searches for answers to his questions.
Opinions: This film is arguably the best known work from celebrated Swedish writer and director Ingmar Bergman. It has been referenced and parodied endlessly over the years, and has become seen as something of the archetypal high-brow "art" film. The film is deservedly a modern classic. Bergman grew up in an intensely Christian household. His father was a rector in the Church and as a child Ingmar Bergman would frequently accompany him on his visits to remote, rural churches where he saw medieval paintings and wood carvings which were among the chief inspirations for the film (in fact the screenplay for the film was based on a student play Ingmar Bergman wrote called Wood Painting). The film is a deeply personal one and deals with religious questions which concerned Bergman throughout his life, and some of the themes of the film, such as the "silence of God", were major preoccupations throughout his life.
The film is stunningly shot in crisp black-and-white, and some images from the film have become icons of world cinema particularly the image of the knight playing Chess with Death on the rocky shore as the sun rises. The film deals with weighty philosophical themes but it is also at times very funny. There is a strong element of bawdy comedy running through it, even Death gets a couple of one-liners. Comedy was not one of Bergman's strenghts admittedly, and he lacks the lightness of touch to make the humour work as well as it could, but it still gets some laughs. There is also plenty of suspense and drama.
The acting is good, with many of the actors being regular Bergman players. Max von Sydow is a particular standout as the anguished, searching knight knight
Powerful, complex, intriguing and entertaining, this is a masterpiece of world cinema and well worth checking out. Ultimately the film concerns itself with one of the major questions, the search for some kind of meaning to life.
Death: "Do you never stop asking questions?"
Block: "No, never"
Death: "But you get no answers."
Death (Bengt Everot) and the Knight (Max von Sydow) start their game in The Seventh Seal