The Seventh Seal by Ingmar Bergman (1957, Sweden) is a film Bergman developed from his own play Wood Painting. It was hailed as one of the major classics in world cinema and it set Bergman on his way to becoming a world-renowned director. (Wikipedia, The Seventh Seal)
The Seventh Seal is film that compasses the themes of the Silence of God (the motif of silence referred to in the film) as well as Death. Bergman incorporated the values of his cinema into the film; to prompt his audience into an intimate exchange whereby sensitive truths and uncomfortable feelings are revealed and laid in plain sight. But I think what made The Seventh Seal stand out from all the rest of Bergman’s films was how well the sensitive themes in the film were elevated and handled magnificently by the combination of well casted actors and good cinematography.
“The profundities of the ideas are lightened and made flexible by glowing pictorial presentation of action that is interesting and strong. Mr. Bergman uses his camera and actors for sharp, realistic effects.” – Bosley Crowther
Shot in black and white, the juxtaposition of the colors in The Seventh Seal demonstrates the opposites of reality, light and dark, sinister and holy/comedic and especially, heaven and hell and life and death. One example would be the first close up we see of the main character Antonius Block kneeling by the beach, praying. One side of his face is lit bright white whilst the other is plagued by black by darker shadows symbolizing his internal struggles between his belief in God and his growing suspicion of his absence.
To connect with his audience regarding the touchy topic of death Bergman engaged all the perspectives of the many different characters and how they feel about it to deliver the essence of the theme; the screen would always cut to shoot whoever is talking at the moment to effectively capture the different reactions when they are faced with the latter who finds extreme pleasure in taking lives. As the movie is tied mainly to the theme of Death, Bergman also employed high angled shots and low angled shots to assume perspectives of Heaven and Hell respectively.
Bergman weaved his love for close up shots into slow and subtle zoom in shots which allows the characters to connect with the audience in a sense that it kind of allows the viewers to enter the mind of the characters and access their deepest emotions and thoughts; especially since the film revolves around something like an internal battle with yourself as God remains silent.
The movie fiercely addresses itself to the agony of belief, the need to believe in a God who remains silent, mysterious, absent.. – Peter Bradshaw (Guardian, Review)
Other than the close up shots of facial expression to reveal inner conflict and thought, every other shot is in deep focus to further exhibit the absence of God with the constant presence and threat of death even when Death himself is not present. For example, the mountebanks always have a skull hanging somewhere near, usually looking over the shoulders of the characters.
When he has his meal of wild strawberries and milk the skull stares right at him.
The Seventh Seal was compared to Carl Theodor Dreyer‘s The Passion of Joan of Arcand Day of Wrath by Nils Beyer at Morgon-tidningen , who even though found Dreyer’s films superior, still noted that “it isn’t just any director that you feel like comparing to the old Danish master.” French director Éric Rohmer described The Seventh Seal as ‘one of the most beautiful film ever.”
The film’s international repute still lives on till today as Empire magazines ranked the film 8th in “The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema” in 2010 and voted 335th ‘Greatest Movie of All Time’ from a list of 500 in a poll.
The Vatican included The Seventh Seal in its list of its 45 “great films” for its thematic values on the 100th anniversary of cinema in 1995. Because of the attributes Bergman tied to Death in The Seventh Seal’s led to the depiction of Death as a white-faced man who dons a black cape and plays games other than chess with humans being a popular object of parody in TV and many films like Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey and Woody Allen‘s Death Knocks. (Wikipedia, The Seventh Seal)
Bergman also gained the distinguished status of first real auteur of Swedish cinema five years into his achievement of the Special Jury Prize at the 1957 Cannes Film Festival. (Wikiepedia, Ingmar Bergman)
“What he has left is a legacy greater than any other director. I think the extraordinary thing that Bergman will be remembered for, other than his body of work, was that he probably did more than anyone to make cinema a medium of personal and introspective value.” – Paul Schrader
Bergman took The Seventh Seal and brought storytelling to whole new level, addressing some of the deepest questions life and religion poses in a most effortless production, definitely a film worthwhile of the term classic.
About the author: Germaine Lim is a fervent writer, hairstylist and someone who needs to learn to stop crying over fictional characters.
Doucet, M. Deep Focus Review – The Definitives – The Seventh Seal (1957) [online] Available at: http://www.deepfocusreview.com/reviews/seventhseal.asp [Accessed: 22 Jun 2013].
En.wikipedia.org. The Seventh Seal – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Seventh_Seal [Accessed: 22 Jun 2013].
En.wikipedia.org. Ingmar Bergman – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ingmar_Bergman [Accessed: 22 Jun 2013].
Musicportals.biz. article : The Seventh Seal | Music Portals – Electronica & New Age & Progressive Music [online] Available at: http://musicportals.biz/nahp/artic-en/The%20Seventh%20Seal [Accessed: 22 Jun 2013].
the Guardian. The Seventh Seal [online] Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2007/jul/20/worldcinema.drama1 [Accessed: 22 Jun 2013].