Sog.: dal dramma Pittura su legno di Ingmar Bergman. Scen.: Ingmar Bergman. F.: Gunnar Fischer. M.: Lennart Wallén. Scgf.: P.A. Lundgren. Mus.: Erik Nordgren. Int.: Max von Sydow (Antonius Block), Gunnar Björnstrand (Jöns), Bengt Ekerot (la Morte), Nils Poppe (Jof), Bibi Andersson (Mia), Åke Fridell (Plog), Inga Gill (Lisa), Erik Strandmark (Jonas Skat), Bertil Anderberg (Raval), Inga Landgré (Karin), Gunnar Olsson (Albertus Pictor). Prod.: Allan Ekelund per AB Svensk Filmindustri. DCP. D.: 96’. Bn.
A knight, Antonius Block (Max von Sydow), and his squire Jöns (Gunnar Björnstrand) return disillusioned from the Crusades to the hysteria of plague-infested fourteenth-century Sweden. On the shore Block encounters Death and, in one of the most effective shot/reverse shot scenes ever filmed, challenges him to a game of chess, playing for time to perform one significant act in life.
Ingmar Bergman began to write The Seventh Seal with the following entry in his workbook (the Bibi he names is his partner at the time, the actress Bibi Andersson): “Bibi’s right. I’ve done enough comedies. It’s time for something else. I mustn’t let myself get scared off any more. It’s better to do this than a bad comedy. I don’t give a damn about the money”.
As the typical view of Ingmar Bergman is that of a brooding intellectual agonising with his inner demons, it might seem hard to believe that he enjoyed his first major triumphs as a director of comedies. He did, though. Now, however, it’s ‘time for something else’. The Seventh Seal thus marks a turning point in Bergman’s career. It may seem a bit paradoxical that although his comedies of the early 1950s paved the way for his international career, it is with the later ‘difficult’ existential dramas such as The Seventh Seal that Ingmar Bergman enjoyed his real commercial triumphs.
The Seventh Seal had started out as a one-act play that Bergman had written a few years earlier as an exercise for the actors at the Malmö Municipal Theatre. Though there are many similarities to the later film, what is lacking from this prototype is Bergman’s best-known character ever. I’m thinking of course of Death, this black-clad, white-faced figure, playing a black and white board game in one of the black-and-white films par excellence.