Probably the best-known film of all Bergman’s work as a result of its vivid medieval canvas, The Seventh Seal had such a shattering effect when it first appeared that even now it is hard to disentangle the film from all the recollections and associations of the time. Considering the film afresh, as must be one of the annual pleasures of this life, one can admit without much of a struggle that Bergman has transcended it with almost everything he has made since. Flaws and all, however, The Seventh Seal matters too much to be thrown aside. Why? Perhaps the answer lies in its very roughness, the fact that, like a medieval passion play, it externalises simple faiths and simple doubts and the need to settle for basic truths. Home from the ludicrous chaos of the Crusades, a man of honour must discover something of value in the plague-ridden country he is about to leave. And peace, he realises a little obviously, is to be found with the family of a mere clown. Thanks to his delaying tactics (playing a game of chess with Death), they escape the Black Death to continue enjoying their immunity from the other plague, that of faithlessness. Gentler in those days, Bergman could allow some fragile happiness as he pressed on into the darkness. 1957.
Black and white.