The Seventh Seal

5 out of 5 stars
BEST OF SEVEN? Bengt Ekerot, left, brings ice-cold skills.
Photo: Courtesy of Janus Films BEST OF SEVEN? Bengt Ekerot, left, brings ice-cold skills.

Time Out says

5 out of 5 stars

We’ve been trained to laugh at The Seventh Seal—at its chess-playing personification of Death and the heaviosity that would ever invent such a device. The good news is that Ingmar Bergman may not have minded laughs in the first place.

Returning to the director’s 1957 landmark via Criterion’s orgiastic new transfer, it’s easy to see the dark humor in this plague-ridden medieval tale; this is a film about keeping one’s toes tapping in a bleak world. (Not for nothing is Woody Allen a huge fan.) Smoke and brimstone tinge the screen while disillusioned Crusader Max von Sydow mutters lines like “We made an idol of our fear and called it God.” But far more hilarious is the dual pageantry at the movie’s heart: On the one hand are blond, sprightly troubadours who sing jauntily about the end of days; on the other are morbid processions of self-lacerating mopes. Which team would you rather play for?

With movies like the apocalyptic The Road on deck for autumn, now is a perfect time to revisit this finest of doomsday films, and this two-disc set makes the adventure an unmissable one. Apart from the digitally restored image itself (the blackest of blacks), here is Ingmar himself, introducing his movie in a 2003 session taped in a private screening room; he gives the camera a wink and admits he has to pee. Extras include archival testimony from Allen and Von Sydow, the theatrical trailer and, on the second disc, Marie Nyrerd’s informative 2004 documentary, Bergman Island (which already felt like a DVD extra). Prepare to fawn at Bergman’s most metaphysically profound film; you may even laugh.—Joshua Rothkopf

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