Saturday, 21 February 2009

The Seventh Seal Bergman

The Seventh Seal is regarded by many as the best work of Ingmar Bergman I do not, but this has nothing to do with cinematic excellence or artistic achievement, but with personal interaction. The film is included as a Barry Norman 100. He praises the film for the recreation of medieval Europe and while the devices used to portray the central issues may have been original they are over done even pretentious now.

A knight returns battle weary from the Crusades, a noble endeavour which has left him questioning his motivation and faith.

But he finds part of his island homeland ravaged by plague and the moment he arrives exhausted on the island, he is greeted by death, and fortuitously there is a set up chess set and he challenges death for game where the stakes are time and potentially a reprieve. I like this aspect, although we should always have an awareness of death, our own and those we care about, who may those we know intimately and those we do not. On TV last night, or the night before there was the reported death of a family of four including a baby but the survival of their 8 year old son with his grand parents? On the same programme there was a report on a memorial service for a 14 year old who elected to enjoy her last months rather than try and prolong through further chemo, and who had launched a charity to help other young people. Now one is the horror of sudden death, did father or mother or both cry out to God to spare their children? And also the peace of that comes from knowing and preparing. We may cling to life and fight off death that is being human, but to play and gamble, I do not like that myself but do not judge others who do.

On his journey to his estate and wife the Bergman creation encounters a small band of strolling players, a couple with a young child. These appear to be good parents, skilled in the craft, a happy couple struggling for food and for paid work. The husband is something of a romantic and devout, seeing the Virgin Mary and her child but this is not first vision he has recounted to his partner.

While performing at a village the third member of the group is willingly seduced by the wife of the blacksmith and they go off for a time to enjoy each other. The blacksmith and other actor having a few drinks at the local inn, the male community, supported by those females present turn on the man holding him responsibility for the action of his colleague. Fortunately he is rescued by the knight's assistant. Returning to his family they offer hospitality to the troubled knight who thought he had a way of winning the chess match against death until death tricks me into revealing his plan. Their simple fare of fresh milk and wild strawberries and relaxed chat eases his mind and has a great bearing on the outcome of the film.
There are other events with affect the knight, his assistant and the players. A young teenage girl is to be burnt as a witch and as the leader of a religious sect who carry crosses and whips each other, urges the peasants to abandon their self interest and pleasurable ways and seek forgives and redemption before they are killed by the plague.

It is argued by Barry Norman and by others, that the plague represents an evil force, which will sweep many people away before their natural time, and therefore they need to live their lives more appropriately. Well I concur with the aspect of preparation and always seeking appropriate redemption for any sins of omission and commission.

The wronged blacksmith decides to join forces with the good player he had wronged but this reconciliation is short-lived when they encounter his wife and the errant performer. She claims she has been seduced and mislead and her husband is only too willing to believe this, while the errant player attempts to fake his death only to be cut down when he attempts to spend the night in a tree, and death comes and breaks the tree.

The knight touched by the kindness of the couple and their child devises a plan to lose the game but buys sufficient time to return to his estate, to see his wife and to takes the other key characters with him with the exception of the couple and their child. The knight and those with him perish, and this is no surprise, but they find their faith and are saved from damnation. The young couple and their child. Well one must not spoil the ending must we, which in Bergman films may or may not matter. It is the way he tells them, now which comedian said that and of whom?

This is grim dark film which according to others is authentically set in time. This was a third viewing and a second reconsideration based on my memory and the draft text. If I live long and develop the memory loss of my mother and of others, what will I remember if all I have is just the list of films experience, or the list of Bergman, the work Ingmar Bergman? It could be Wild Strawberries and this film because they are about age, death, remorse, forgiveness and redemption. I hope I summer with a Monika, but there are many layers of Bergman to unravel still, hopefully.

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