Watching The Seventh Seal in a brilliantly re-mastered digital print at the Curzon Soho, I could have been watching a newly minted avant garde allegory on the problems facing the world in 2007 (religious zealots and terror gripping society anyone?), but of course the imagery is so famous any cinema lover would recognise it from a mile off. The pure beauty of Ingmar Bergman’s seminal black and white 1957 film (and I’m also luck enough to have seen one of his theatre productions too) is stunning, simply superb, flawless cinematography. The existentialist theme, with death playing a medieval knight at chess for his life in a land blighted by plague, is brilliantly simple, the story unfolding with surprising humour and pared down elegance. The inevitable ending, the death that we will all meet, is also surprisingly hopeful and upbeat (in a very understated way), with a chubby child and his acting troupe parents enduring, living another day. We also have a Saint Joan style burning of a witch, the acting out of a play to a baying rabble, and some communal humiliation in the tavern, all of which bring something to the discussion of faith, human needs and the despair of life. But you can take what you want from this film, it ask why and does not didactically tell you what the answers are. The absence of faith is our prevailing credo in 2007, this film doesn’t inspire religious feelings, but it dose ask us to think about our belief in nothing.
All I can say is, if you’ve not see this film, you really should. It is also one of those films where watching on the big screen is almost a must, the film cries out for a wide canvass (I have a tiny television, so I try and avoid watching great films on DVD or video. I just can’t imagine watching Downfall, one of my cinema favourites, or any subtitled film on such a small screen). This is a film that truly deserves the word superlative.