~ Note: yes, this is in Italian, but pres the CC button for English subtitles. ~
The Seventh Seal (Swedish: Det sjunde inseglet) is a 1957 Swedish film written and directed by Ingmar Bergman. Set during the Black Death, it tells of the journey of a medieval knight (Max von Sydow) and a game of chess he plays with the personification of Death (Bengt Ekerot), who has come to take his life. Bergman developed the film from his own play Wood Painting. The title refers to a passage from the Book of Revelation, used both at the very start of the film, and again towards the end, beginning with the words "And when the Lamb had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour" (Revelation 8:1). Here the motif of silence refers to the "silence of God" which is a major theme of the film.
The film is considered a major classic of world cinema. It helped Bergman to establish himself as a world-renowned director and contains scenes which have become iconic through parodies and homages.
Disillusioned knight Antonius Block (Max von Sydow) and his squire Jöns (Gunnar Björnstrand) return after fighting in the Crusades and find Denmark being ravaged by the plague. On the beach immediately after their arrival, Block encounters Death (Bengt Ekerot), personified as a pale, black-cowled figure resembling a monk. Block, in the middle of a chess game he has been playing alone, challenges Death to a chess match, believing that he can forestall his demise as long as the game continues. Death agrees, and they start a new game.
The other characters in the story do not see Death, and when the chess board comes out at various times in the story, they believe Block is continuing his habit of playing alone.
Death and Antonius Block choose sides for the chess game; Death gets the black pieces.
Block and Jöns head for Block's castle. Along the way, they pass some actors, Jof and his wife Mia, with their baby son, Mikael, and their actor-manager, Skat. Jof has visions, but Mia is skeptical.
The knight and the squire enter a church where a fresco of the Dance of Death is being painted. Jöns draws a small figure representing himself. "This is squire Jöns. He grins at Death; his world is a Jöns-world, believable only to himself, ridiculous to all including himself, meaningless to Heaven and of no interest to Hell." Block tells someone he mistakes for a priest in the confessional booth, "I met Death today. We are playing chess." He confides, "My life has been a futile pursuit, a wandering, a great deal of talk without meaning. I feel no bitterness or self-reproach because the lives of most people are very much like this. But I will use my reprieve for one meaningful deed." After giving away his strategy in the chess game, Block discovers that his listener is Death. Leaving the church, Block speaks with a young woman who has been condemned to be burnt alive for supposedly consorting with the Devil.
Shortly thereafter, Jöns searches an abandoned village for water. He saves a servant girl (Gunnel Lindblom) from being raped by a man robbing a corpse. He recognises the man as Raval, a theologian, who ten years ago had convinced Antonius to leave his wife and join a crusade to the Holy Land. Jöns promises to brand Raval on the face if they meet again. The girl joins Jöns. The trio ride into town, where the little acting troupe is performing. Skat introduces Jof and Mia to the crowd, then is enticed by Lisa, the blacksmith's wife, away for a tryst. They run off together. Jof and Mia's performance is interrupted by the arrival of a procession of flagellants.
At a public house, Jof comes across Raval. Raval forces Jof to dance on the tables like a bear. Jöns appears and, true to his word, slices Raval's face. Block enjoys a country picnic of milk and wild strawberries gathered by Mia. Block says: "I'll carry this memory between my hands as if it were bowl filled to the brim with fresh milk...And it will be an adequate sign – it will be enough for me." He invites the actors to his castle, where they will be safer from the plague.
Along the way, they come across Skat and Lisa in the forest. Lisa, dissatisfied with Skat, returns to her husband. After the others leave, Skat climbs a tree for the night. Death starts cutting down the tree, informing the actor that his "time is up." When Skat pleads that there must be "special rules for actors", Death responds that Skat's "performance is cancelled on account of death".
They come across the condemned young woman again. The knight demands of a monk, "What have you done with the child?" Death asks, "Do you never stop asking questions?" Block answers, "No. Never." Block asks the woman again to summon Satan, so he can ask him about God. The girl claims already to have done so, but Block cannot see him, only her terror. He gives her herbs to take away her pain.
Raval reappears. Dying of the plague, he pleads for water. The servant girl attempts to bring him some, but is stopped by Jöns. Jof tells Mia that he can see the knight playing chess with Death, and decides to flee with his family while Death is preoccupied.
After hearing Death state "No one escapes me" Block knocks the chess pieces over, distracting Death while the family slips away. Death places the pieces back on the board, then wins the game on the next move. He announces that when they meet again, Block's time—and that of all those travelling with him—will be up. Before departing, Death asks if Block has accomplished his one "meaningful deed" yet; Block replies that he has.
The knight is reunited with his wife, the sole occupant of his castle, all the servants having fled. The party shares one "last supper" before Death comes for them. Block prays to God, "Have mercy on us, because we are small and frightened and ignorant."
Meanwhile, the little family sits out a storm, which Jof interprets to be "the Angel of Death and he's very big." The next morning, Jof, with his second sight, sees the knight and his followers being led away over the hills in a solemn dance of death. "They bear away from their light, while their strict lord Death bids them to dance... and the rain washes, and cleanses the salt of their tears from their cheeks." Mia chides him. "You with your visions and dreams."