Plague-ridden Sweden in the Middle Ages. The Knight Antonius Block (Max von Sydow) and his Squire Jöns (Gunnar Bjornstrand) return from a crusade. The Knight prays at the edge of the sea and sets up a chess game. Suddenly Death (Bengt Ekerot) appears opposite him and demands the Knight’s life. He has lived with Death for ten years in the Holy Land, replies Antonius Block, and now he wants to play chess with him for his life.
In DET SJUNDE INSEGLET Bergman, together with his director of photography Gunnar Fischer, succeeds in creating unforgettable images that have become part of the iconography of film history: Death as a white-faced figure dressed in black, the procession of flagellants singing „Dies Irae“, the young woman who is burned as a witch, and finally the vision of the Dance of Death leading the doomed along a ridge, a black silhouette against the dramatic sky.
The film deals with sacrifice, salvation and the search for God. Even though Antonius Block cannot win the chess game against Death, he uses a trick – he knocks over the chess pieces – to gain time so that his companions, the “holy” family of Jof and Mia with their little son, can escape Death.
by Ingmar Bergman
with Max von Sydow, Gunnar Björnstrand, Bibi Andersson