The Seventh Seal

A sombre game of chess between a man and Death dressed in a cloak

Still from The Seventh Seal, Ingmar Bergman, 1957

Bergman’s allegory about a medieval knight (Max von Sydow) who plays chess with Death (a white-faced, shrouded figure played by Bengt Ekerot) was a landmark of arthouse cinema in the late 1950s. Taking its title from the Book of Revelation, the film examines the knight’s crisis of faith during a dark period of human history, tackling issues of existential doubt and despair that touched a nerve with audiences living in the aftermath of the horror of war.

Filmed in sombre black and white by Bergman’s then-regular cinematographer, Gunnar Fischer, The Seventh Seal convincingly evokes a 14th-century of dread and superstition and abounds with startling apocalyptic imagery, from a black bird on the wing against stormy skies to the final, silhouetted danse macabre on a hilltop.

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