The Seventh Seal (Det Sjunde Inseglet), 1957

A much-admired arthouse classic from Ingmar Bergman, though I realise now that I’ve seen it that I didn’t actually know much about it beforehand, aside from the fact it contains famous scenes in which Max von Sydow’s wandering knight Antonius Block – returning to Sweden after the Crusades – plays a high-stakes game of chess with Death (Bengt Ekerot) (memorably lampooned in Bill And Ted’s Bogus Journey). The game is just a small part of what is a thoughtful and magnificently-crafted treatise on the uneasy relationship between art and Christianity during the Middle Ages, and the silence of God in the face of evil, but the film also manages to be playful and witty at times, too – no mean feat considering the inescapable nature of the figure of the Grim Reaper and the looming threat of the Black Death over all and sundry, which has been read as a Cold War allegory from a country with a vested interest in global matters. The film is filled with intriguing characters, from the central chess players to Gunnar Björnstrand’s nihilistic squire Jöns, the innocent, abused actor Jof (Nils Poppe), and his hopeful wife Mia (Bibi Andersson). The ensemble cast is superb. Gunnar Fischer’s vivid, expressionistic cinematography is a marvel. (*****)