The Seventh Seal [4k Ultra-HD + Blu-ray]
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The Seventh Seal (UHD + Blu-ray)
Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Vividly recreating a medieval world tormented by plague and superstition, Bergman’s allegorical drama – centred on a knight (Max von Sydow), returned from the Crusades, who challenges Death to a game of chess in order to postpone his demise – remains fascinating (and finally rather touching) as a study of faith in crisis. Packed with powerful images, it punctuates its bleakness with moments of wry humour. A Jury Prize winner at Cannes upon its release, the film remains one of the must-see masterworks of world Cinema.
- 4K (2106p) UHD Blu-ray presentation in Dolby Vision (HDR10 compatible) (Region ABC)
- High Definition Blu-ray (Region B)
- Newly recorded audio commentary on The Seventh Seal by film critic and editor-in-chief of Diabolique magazine, Kat Ellinger
- Karin’s Face (1984, 15 mins): Ingmar Bergman’s short film based on pictures from his personal photo album, particularly those of his mother, Karin
- Behind the scenes footage from The Seventh Seal (1956, 15 mins): rare footage with optional audio commentary by film scholar Ian Christie
- Original trailer
- **FIRST PRESSING ONLY** illustrated booklet with essay by Jessica Klang
Sweden | 1957 | black & white | 96 minutes | Swedish language, with optional English language subtitles | original aspect ratio 1.37:1 | Cert PG (contains mild violence, threat, language) | BD50: 1080p, 24fps, LPCM 1.0 mono audio (48kHz/24bit) UHD region ABC, Blu-ray region B
- Package Dimensions : 17.4 x 13.7 x 1.7 cm; 130 Grams
- Media Format : 4K, Dolby, PAL
- Run time : 1 hour and 36 minutes
- Studio : Bfi
- ASIN : B09BT5TVVM
- Country of origin : United Kingdom
- Number of discs : 2
- Customer Reviews:
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That was the feeling. I remember it well. I would be young — the only thing I had ever experienced — forever. The first human being I saw dead was my great-grandmother in her casket. She was pale, gaunt, withered. It was time to go. But I was so different, too young at age four or five to imagine being anything but different. It never occurred to me then that I’d be laid out in a casket too someday. How could I? I’m not old. Ageing is for adults, not me.
Exactly when the depressing and distressing truth of my error descended upon me I cannot remember. I have tried and repeatedly failed in my search to find that moment. But at some point I saw everything: the black hood, scythe, bony fingers, long bent nose, leering, jeering grin. What a being and what a job! Grim indeed. With that scythe he’ll cut everyone down to size. Yes, everyone, even the fools who have paid millions to cryogenic hucksters to preserve their genes and bodies. No return tickets allowed, a one-way journey. Even me! Hard to believe it but me too!
So you go through the five stages of grief that lead to the end, starting in disbelief and denial, moving on to anger and bargaining (with an unfeeling god) and arriving (reluctantly) at acceptance. Dylan Thomas could rail all he wanted against the dying of the light, but it only proves he was stuck in the anger stage, unable to even progress to bargaining with a silent, good-for-nothing god.
Ingmar Bergman must have brooded a lot on this dark theme. He wanted to see the hideous face of death and was clearly at the bargaining stage when he made his masterpiece, now on review here. It’s an allegory of course, as many of the greatest stories are — universal, timeless, accessible to all, as nobody is a stranger to what it tells (or nobody older than, say, four or five years old).
The film is stark from the start. Dark clouds menace the sky. A large raptor, pitch black — a hawk or eagle — hovers ominously above, stationary for a moment on updrafts. Waves pound the wild, windy shore. Two horses stand alone on the beach, their riders asleep in the sand. The scene is eerie, unsettling, bleak.
The riders are soldiers, Crusaders back from crusading abroad. They brought the light of Jesus to the infidel, or tried to, murdering him when he failed to grasp the light. War has battered them too. They look lost, shipwrecked, abandoned on shore. And this they’ll remain, condemned to wander the land.
That is, if they survive long enough to wander. This is problematic because Death is in their midst. Literally so. He stands black robed and hooded on the beach, his pale face rigid and ugly. He brings the end. One of the knights, Antonius Block, negotiates with Death, inviting him to a game of chess. If Death wins, Block dies. If Block wins, his life is prolonged.
Block is ahead in the first few moves, so he is allowed to commence his journey on horseback. Jöns, his mounted squire, goes with him. The game will be resumed elsewhere on the journey.
The age is a desperate one. It’s the calamitous 14th century in the words of American historian Barbara Tuchman (“A Distant Mirror”, 1978). Why calamitous? Because it was rotten and awful: wars, pogroms, inquisitions, superstitions, witch burnings and the Black Death which wiped out a third of Europe, misery and suffering everywhere. Where was God? Who knows? Otherwise engaged. The Devil had taken over the world.
Block is battered by the times, injured in battle, depressed in thought. He has seen too much carnage and inhumanity. He wonders what happened to Christ’s teachings of charity and goodness and the so-called brotherhood of man. He’s appalled at what man is capable of doing, ashamed of his own kind. Maybe he wishes he had been born something different. Who among us has not thought the same from time to time? Given a choice, I think I’d be a bear (strong, independent, long naps, sweet honey).
So, Block’s crisis is existential. Why this suffering, all this misery, if God exists? If he does, he’s a blackguard, an unfeeling brute. If he doesn’t, we’re all delusional. Either way, mankind looks cursed, the Black Death punishment, proof of it.
The knights trudge on through ravaged landscapes. Villages are ramshackle, corpses sizzle and burn, sinners flagellate themselves. A witch in wooden stocks bound for the stake goes mad, screaming incoherently. Lechers and drunkards abound. Loose women too. If death stalks the land, party while you can.
This seems to be the theme, society broken down, anarchy let loose. Does any semblance of normality remain? Yes, thankfully so. The knights come upon a travelling troupe and its caravan. Jof is a juggler and jester. Mia, his wife, sings and dances. Mikael is their baby boy, a cute toddler Block comes to adore. Mia hands Block a bowl of milk while he sits by the caravan. A small, simple act, motivated by nothing more, it turns out, than human kindness. Along with the milk are wild strawberries, the berries most favoured and loved by Swedes. Or so we might think, knowing Ingmar Bergman. Block is touched, deeply moved by this unexpected act of generosity.
So touched, it transpires, that he has an epiphany. His death, when it comes, will preserve the lives of others. Mikael in his purity and his good parents must endure. These become Block’s terms with Death if he (Block) wins the game. His sacrifice can save persons worthy of life. This is his judgement.
The macabre dance of death we see in the end includes all the main players we have met — all but Jof, Mia and Mikael, whose lives continue. On a hill overlooking the sea the dancers hold hands, led by Death with his scythe and hourglass. It isn’t that they go willingly. The tide of cosmic entropy forces them onward. There is no escape. There is only this when the end comes — the end itself and what lies beyond: the silence of deep sleep and the indifference of God.
which still stands up even after so many years. Enthralling.