The cinema was bunged full last night as people crammed into the Curzon Soho’s small screen three to see the digital screening of the restored version of Bergman’s 1958 The Seventh Seal.
Black and white—both on screen and in plot—we follow Antonius Block, a knight journeying home from the crusades to be reunited with his wife. Death appears, initially on a beach, and plays a game of chess (!) that is continued throughout the film to settle the knight’s fate.
Along the way home we pick up other medieval characters in the plague-ridden land (Sweden) who are woven into the plot, including a troupe of travelling entertainers (one of whom is ridiculed for the visions he sees of the Virgin Mary ... and Death), and a girl who is rescued from a violent thief but is never named and only ever speaks once near the end of the film when she utters “It is finished”.
The knight doubts whether God exists, but prefers doubts to the emptiness of no faith.
“And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour” (Revelation 8:1)
And for the last ten minutes of the film, the audience were completely silent, holding their breath as the film moved towards the inevitable conclusion.
Dark, moody, but not as thought-provoking as some movie-reviewers had suggested. If you want a better view, check out God is Not Elsewhere or Film Talk where Gareth Higgins is bound to pass a more expert comment over the coming days. (Unlike the modern widescreen cinematic experience, this film was shot and edited in 4:3 aspect ratio, so it feels a bit like watching an old black and white TV!)
But a timely screening ... as Death had visited the film’s writer and director Ingmar Bergman, finishing their game of chess the previous day.