The Seventh Seal (1957)

Starring: Max von Sydow, Gunnar Björnstrand, Bengt Ekerot and Nils Poppe
Tartan Video
RRP: £29.99
Certificate: PG
Available 03 December 2007

Antonius Block, a weary knight, and his squire Jons return home from the crusades. Along the way they meet Death who challenges Block to a game of chess. The rules are simple. Block stays alive as long as the game continues and wins his freedom if he wins the game...

The Seventh Seal (1957) was directed by Ingmar Bergman, and won the Jury Special prize at Cannes in 1957, as well as a further three awards.

What can one say about a film that truly deserves the title classic that has not already been said before? Bergman has a very bleak view of the 14th century and this is not without reason. The Black Death was sweeping across the land creating an apocalypse that has thankfully never been repeated. In the face of this catastrophe reactions were many and varied. Some sought to gain God's forgiveness through self flagellation, others burned their fellow man.

Max Von Sydow's Block is a man who is discontented that God only chooses to show himself through faith and legend and cannot understand why, if God exists, he does not just show himself. Having spent his life disconnected from his fellow man, he craves to just one meaningful deed before death finally wins and so plays chess to gain him the time he needs.

And yet, within all the pain, Bergman shows that there is yet hope. A troupe of travelling players are presented as the least pessimistic, only they continue to attempt to entertain the villagers, whilst bring up their own child - a hope for the future. These are not the only characters that the knight interacts with. In a deserted village they meet Ravel, the very same Doctor of Theology who had originally persuaded the knight to embark on the crusade. Now in the face of the horror, he has turned to robbing the dead, having lost his faith.

Audio comes in two flavours the original Swedish and an English Dub, both of which are Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. For a film this old there is a nice set of extras. You get the original theatrical trailer, Karin's Face (1984 14 min 13 sec). This short film was directed by Bergman and is about his mother. The film is presented as a set of photographs over a lilting and somewhat melancholic piano piece. The film evokes the kind of nostalgia that one gets looking at pictures of loved ones long dead. Surprisingly powerful, given its simple premise; the film has been fully restored for the Blu-ray edition. A real gem of an extra is the On-Set Footage (1956 14 min 49 sec). This is informal, silent, footage, narrated in English, which although short is quite engrossing. It's interesting seeing Bergman scouting out locations for a film that, made on the cheap, did not look to be a great box office draw, let alone the classic that it would become.

The print is presented in 4:3 and given that the film is fifty years old was surprisingly sharp and clear.

If you have yet to plunge your toe into the joys of Blu-ray then Tartan have very generously included the DVD version as well. That way you can start collecting films whilst saving for a player.

The package presents this magnificent film in the best print possible. Given the bonus material and the inclusion of the film in DVD format Tartan continues to prove that it loves films as much as its audience.

Charles Packer

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