Monday, April 21, 2008

Film Club in divided opinion: shock, horror, probe!

This week's offering had the film club regulars (sadly minus Frankenkeith who had had some catering difficulties and so missed out) divided straight down the middle.

Firstly, in the blue corner, Shazzerooneypoos was decidedly unimpressed with Ingmar Bergman's 1957 classic The Seventh Seal; whilst acknowledging its classic status the film's style and pace didn't appeal. Dong was of similar opinion. When Lizzie arrived home after we'd finished watching and asked what it had been about, Dong's response was that she'd hit the nail on the head: what was it about? I asked Dong how he rated it in comparison to our all time low point at film club, Death In Venice, and he considered it better because it's shorter.In the red corner, Mrs TheMillbrooker absolutely loved it and yours truly found plenty to challenge and entertain. On balance, I'll go with the "loved it" camp.

Set in an undefined medieval period in Sweden the narrative concerns a knight's chess game with death to stall his inevitable demise. The knight (Max Von Sydow) is seeking after truth, after God, after anything that means anything. As such the film explores a version of humanism or even existentialism. What is the point of life if there is no God? Can one still be a worthwhile person if there is no worth?
The cinematography is of its time, almost entirely single camera work and as such loses some atmospherics by modern cinematic standards. However, looking beyond this limitation much of human life passes in front of you as the knight gains a small entourage of ne'er-do-wells and comedic sidekicks. The knight is accompanied by his squire, Jons, and this character fulfils a very similar role to Lear's fool: often telling truths and recognising dysfunction as others flounder all around.

At times overly po-faced, the film does offer some lighter moments, the slanging match of medieval insults between Plog the Blacksmith and one of the acting troupe is a joy to behold. For most of the film, though, life is portrayed as Hobbes-ian (nasty, brutish and short); the characters largely accepting early death and hunger as their normality.
This film tackles some very big questions and needs a philosophical bent to be enjoyed. It is an important piece of cinematic history, and for anyone wanting to be erudite in cinema (if that's possible) it's compulsory viewing. You'll need to make your own mind up whether you're in the blue or the red corner, though.

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