Monday, July 05, 2010

"The Seventh Seal" (Language - Swedish) (1957) - Movie Review

The poetry of the film begins with the very first frame of the “The Seventh Seal”, a sleeping knight Antonius Block (Max von Sydow) beside a chess board arranged to begin the play, two horses on the shore and the scary face of Death (Bengt Ekerot). This is not as magnificent and sweet as “Wild Strawberries” but it relentlessly shares the superior quality of it which is the wisdom. Ingmar Bergman takes death in this game of life and does not think twice about bringing it in every inch in his film. You will have answer and you will think it is obvious but it had to be this way. The journey is important as that is what makes sense of our end.

The knight is not afraid of death because he has always expected it in from all corners during his ten years of crusade. His compatriot as his squire Jons (Gunnar Björnstrand) is full of smart remarks with full of truth and ironic nature to it. He knows his master’s undying question because he has those himself and he has found a better way to deal with it, to not worry himself to death. Antonius cannot rest it and now more than ever when Death has come to bargain his life in a game of chess, the time is running out and he cannot die in peace with the idea of unknown enigmatic questionable power.

As they head back home from a very regretful ten years of war, pain and brutality, Antonius and Jons are not the same people they left. They are tired of everything and their prolonged existence only keeps the torment going in finding reasons for that. In these lone men and in their desperation are some colourful characters in the name of traveling entertainers. A lovely couple Jof (Nils Poppe) and Mia (Bibi Andersson) with their baby Mikael. Jof sees visions which are as true as Antonius’ visualization of Death. He sees pleasant things though. Along with their prick of a head of the troupe, they go to their next village for performance. While they are ready to do that, Antonius and Jons see a church and a group of soldiers ready to burn an innocent child said to be possessed of devil. In between there is a plague on the outbreak. Among these travels Antonius hoping to find something of an answer before he loses the game.

Bergman in this film goes a little Tarkovsky and this can be purely personal. May be it is due to the uneven silence that exists between solid dialogues. Boring as it might be, Tarkovsky’s film have this eerie silence which is disturbing, annoying and has a devilish soul to itself and Bergman has it out here. Given that Tarkovsky begun making films after Bergman, he concentrated on this atmosphere more than Bergman himself. In this film it becomes the bleakness of those surpassing slow end of events itself.

The never answerable question towards the existence of god cannot be more simply put from this character. He has fought in the crusade sacrificing himself to the service of this made destiny to regain the possession of holy land and has seen/done unspeakable things. He has accepted death as his only redemption but for once he wants to know whether what he gave is something really out there. Not in the name of Jesus or definite figure but to quench his thirst for fallen questions. He wants to believe but the deed and living he has done made him unable to embrace the belief. The feeling to be nothing but a speck in this big universe bothers immensely as it does every one of ourselves.

But equivalent to Antonius is his squire Jons lived through the same and has undergone a cynical carelessness. He is so clear of the right and wrong but knows what can be done and what cannot be done or what he chooses not to do. He has learned everything but there are unjust things which even he cannot close his eyes away from and go about the imbalance of the nature. In between these desolate and lost characters are hopes and cheers from Jof and Mia with their baby. There is a moment of happiness in all of them when chance get them together to have strawberries and milk. There Antonius almost answers his questions with the reality of these bonds, friendship and simple food of pleasure to complete his life. Yet he wants that to become it as a memory than a life lesson.

While I said that this is not as great as “Wild Strawberries”, the mood of this might have played against it. Its weariness and darkness absorbs the energy to itself and creates the much talked about emptiness of life. Though it succeeds in embodying the theme of the film, it does detriment the film making clarity Bergman brought in the aforementioned film. Then again, this is a film of precise dialogues with ambiguous answers. There are several instances of ludicrous behaviour in the name of belief and then there are reasonable instances to believe in the god. But when the end nears, every one bows to the ultimate power and nature. That I will leave it upto you to find out watching “The Seventh Seal”.

No comments: