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A Knight and his squire are home from the crusades. Black Death is sweeping their country. As they approach home, Death appears to the knight and tells him it is his time. The knight challenges Death to a chess game for his life. The Knight and Death play as the cultural turmoil envelopes the people around them as they try, in different ways, to deal with the upheaval the plague has caused. Written by
John Vogel <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I suppose one has to view the reputed great classics of cinema to sort of test one's critical faculties against established standards and coming to this iconic film I was certainly aware of some of its famous imagery, in particular that of the soldier playing chess with Death, but nothing more than this. It does make for an arresting start to the film but after that I found it rather heavy going I must say.
Once said soldier Max Van Sydow treks after the family of travelling performers, I struggled to make sense of the narrative as the film follows a picaresque trail of incidents such as as the backstage seduction of a fellow-performer's wife, the humiliation of the travelling husband at an inn and the death by fire of a young female witch. Where exactly are they all headed? Well, with Death silently and unobtrusively along for the ride, I think I get the inference; nobody lives forever.
Mind you, I guess in all of it there's lots of stuff I'm still missing about faith, relationships, class, superstition and the human spirit, the meaning of life in short, but I'm afraid much of its symbolism passed me by. It is well shot in black and white and language-barrier notwithstanding appears to be well played with the actors certainly giving life to their individual characters, Van Sydow in particular, but I found the bitty, episodic development of the story as mystifying and unsatisfying as the higher allegorical meaning striven for.
In fact the only really memorable scene for me was the chess match, which of course I knew about already, so really there was no need for me to watch the rest of it and I'm kind of sorry I did.
Not my cup of tea, I'm afraid.
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