A tense chess game between a knight and Death in plague-torn Sweden. Who will win, and at what cost?
The chess playing scene between the Knight and Death is one of the most iconic of all time. Antonius Block (Max von Sydow) is compelling, and his scenes with Death (Bengt Ekerot) are fantastically compelling. Ekerot is eerie as Death, and whenever he turned up it sent shivers of genuine fear down my spine. Not many films can do that, and I wonder what audiences at the time thought of it.
Cinematically, this film is a delight. Bleak, spooky…simply brilliant. That being said, however, the film does feel a bit long in its duration and the plot could have worked well with just Death and Antonius Block’s plot arcs but padding it out with the other characters made the whole thing seem that bit more real.
Swedish cinema is always a bit of a proverbial mindfield because some people who watch it out of curiosity may be put off a bit by the long takes during scenes (in a modern world where jump cuts and shaky camera are an almost certainty.) and somewhat innocuous dialogue at other times. But the way Ekerot portrayed Death had strong influence in later portrayals.
However, its a super film all the same.
MY RATING: ***.5 / *****