The Seventh Seal is one of the landmarks of world cinema. The film is a story about death, the meaning of life, and God. Antonius Block, played by 27-year-old Max von Sydow, is a world weary knight who has returned from the Crusades with his squire Jons. Death encounters Block, and the two agree that Block can live as long as he continues the game. The film, which has been parodied in films as different as Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, The Last Action Hero, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and Love and Death, won a Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, the Spanish Cinema Writers Circle Awards for Best Foreign Film and Best Director, and the Sant Jordi Awards for Best Film and Best Foreign Director.
The Virgin Spring is another film that is based on the Middle Ages. It is set in 14th-century Sweden and deals with a couple whose daughter, a virgin, is raped and murdered by goat herders. The culprits ask for food and lodging from the parents, who exact revenge. This universal tale of revenge, religion, and justice won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film, a Special Mention Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and Kinema Junpo Awards for the Best Foreign Language Film and the Best Foreign Language Director.Many of Bergman’s films deal with with the tensions and rivalries within families. Cries and Whispers exemplifies this. This 1972 film is set in late 19th-century Sweden and centers around Agnes, one of three sisters. She is dying of cancer and her sisters Maria and Karin arrive at her mansion to be with her. Anna, Agnes’s maid, cares for Agnes and has a rapport with her. The relationship between Agnes on the one hand, and Maria and Karin on the other is distant. As Agnes’s end nears, resentment, jealousy, and anger between the three sisters boils over. The film received five Academy Award nominations and won for Best Cinematography. In addition, Cries and Whispers was named the Best Foreign Language Film from the National Board of Review and Best Film by the New York Film Critics Circle.
Fanny and Alexander, Bergman’s penultimate film, is another example of a family being less than a refuge to some or all of its members. Fanny and Alexander Ekdahl have pleasant, comfortable lives with their parents Oskar and Emilie, who are the director and the leading lady of the local theater. Oskar’s death changes everything. Emilie marries the local bishop and moves them into his chancery. The children’s lives become grim and forbidding, and the film is about the resolution of this situation. On its release, Fanny and Alexander was critically acclaimed and received four Academy Award nominations, winning four for Best Foreign Language Film, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, and Best Costume Design, among other international awards.Alf Sjoberg was a Swedish director from the generation before Bergman’s. An example of his work is Miss Julie. This film is an adaptation of a play by August Strindberg. When her engagement falls through, Julie falls in love with Jean, a servant. Because a romance between the two will never be accepted in their society, they plan to flee to Switzerland. The film, which, like the play, deals with issues of sex and class, won the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
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