Film & DVD Review: The Seventh Seal (1957)

Australia:PG / Italy:T (re-rated) / South Korea:15 / Italy:VM14 (original rating) / Argentina:Atp / Finland:K-16 / Sweden:15 / UK:PG / West Germany:16 / Spain:13 / UK:X (original rating) / Iceland:12 / Singapore:PG

Running time: 192 minutes

Reviewed by David Kerr

Seventh Seal

Click on image to buy this DVD

In tribute to the acclaimed Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman, who died recently, Tartan Films has reissued his most celebrated film on DVD. This fiftieth anniversary Collector’s Edition has also been issued in the new Blu-ray high definition format for those with deeper pockets.

Besides the film, the DVD is packaged with an English language audio track, new subtitles, an original trailer and some behind-the-scenes footage from the film’s set. Film historian Ian Christie has recorded a commentary over the silent footage shedding some light on Bergman’s methods and technique. Fascinating stuff! There’s also a bonus short film, Karin’s Face based on his mother.

So what about the film itself, then? I have to confess never to having seen it until receiving this DVD.

Set during the Black Death, in 14th Century Sweden, a knight back from the crusades (Max von Sydow) comes face-to-face with a hooded man who identifies himself as Death (Bengt Ekerot). He had escaped death several times on his travels and discovers that Death has been stalking him. This is by no means a laugh a minute but there is some surprising humour in it, especially in the role of a travelling band of actors and their relationships with the residents of a village they are passing through – especially one very attractive young woman, the blacksmith’s wife.

This is a very thoughtful film, looking at issues of life and death in an atmosphere of plague and suffering. Was the plague a visitation of God on a sinful people as put about by a hellfire and brimstone friar surrounded by flagellating pilgrims? How do people deal with their fate? Do they accept it? Do they turn on others? Is their faith deepened or lost? The same sort of varying reaction is seen today in the face of terrorism or today’s modern equivalent of hellfire and damnation: ‘global warming’ and ‘climate change’. This is deep stuff, but not as depressing as it sounds. It certainly deserves a second or third viewing although I confess to having watched the English dubbed version rather than the subtitled Swedish original.


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