INGMAR BERGMAN: A Season of Films at Swedenborg House | 13, 20, 27 September 2012 | Swedenborg Hall, 20-21 Bloomsbury Way, London WC1A
TONIGHT begins the 2012 Swedenborg Film Season, with a special screening of THE SEVENTH SEAL (1957) by INGMAR BERGMAN (1918-2007).
Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007) wrote and directed over fifty feature films, and from the late 1950s his work has become canonical to ‘art-house’ movie culture, academic cinema studies and film clubs all over the world. Bergman was well known for his interest in the scientist and philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), a fellow countryman and seminal influence on artistic culture. In addition to filmmaking, Bergman directed and produced numerous plays, including a famous interpretation of August Strindberg’s Inferno (1898), a work that is also influenced by Swedenborg.
The Seventh Seal is Bergman’s most famous film, and is often described as one of the great seminal events of twentieth-century cinema. Max von Sydow stars as a fourteenth-century knight named Antonius Block returning home to a plague-ridden Sweden after fighting in the Crusades. The film takes its title from the Book of Revelation, and in 1956 the threat of Apocalypse felt as real as it must have been in medieval Sweden. Created in the shadow of Cold War, Bergman’s masterwork transcends the politics of history and the rhetoric of religion to ask fundamental existential questions about man’s relation to death and to God. Bergman said afterwards: ‘Say anything you want against The Seventh Seal. My fear of death — this infantile fixation of mine — was, at that moment, overwhelming. I felt myself in contact with death day and night, and my fear was tremendous. When I finished the picture, my fear went away. I have the feeling simply of having painted a canvas in an enormous hurry — with enormous pretension but without any arrogance. I said, “Here is a painting; take it, please.” ‘
The Knight, disillusioned by a pointless war, plague and anarchy, has lost his faith and is asking God to show Himself. Instead he meets Death, from whom he can get no straight answer. The modern world sees death but it cannot see God. Bloc’s disillusionment extends to the whole of humanity. He laments, ‘My indifference to my fellow men has cut me off from their company. I want to confess as best I can, but my heart is void. The void is a mirror. I see my face and feel loathing and horror. My indifference to man has shut me out. I live now in a world of ghosts, a prisoner in my dreams.’ He is cut off from man and thus from God’s grace and unlike Jof he is not permitted visionary glimpses of God’s benevolence, only man’s villainy. The dark tones of Bloc’s inner angst are balanced by a highly satirical script and plenty of physical comedy, reflecting the reality of human experience. Like Swedenborg’s Heaven and Hell (1758), the film is an expressionist, highly allegorical exploration of existence and its possibilities for revelation, a vision realized by unforgettable images – often subversions of those from the Christian tradition. The film ends with one of the most iconic of all of Bergman’s cinematic images: the near-silhouette ‘Dance of Death’. Filmed in brilliant, sometimes hallucinatory, black and white, The Seventh Seal has won a multitude of awards, including the Special Jury Prize at the 1957 Cannes Film Festival.
(Written by Stephen McNeilly & Nora Foster)
This evening’s screening is now FULLY BOOKED but booking is still open for Wild Strawberries (20 September) and Through a Glass Darkly (27 September). Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve places.