Monday, 12 January 2015

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1957: Bengt Ekerot and Gunnar Björnstrand in The Seventh Seal

Bengt Ekerot did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Death in The Seventh Seal.

The Seventh Seal is an effective and atmospheric film about a knight (Max von Sydow) seeking existential answers while playing a game of life or death with the grim reaper during the time of the black plague. 

Bengt Ekerot is death who haunts to proceedings while the chess game with the knight. Ekerot's death is certainly the most iconic character from a film by Ingmar Bergman and the look of the character went on to influence such later classic films as Bill and Ted's Bogus journey. Bergman's direction deserves a great deal of the credit for the character as everything around him amplifies the creepiness of Ekerot. The look also of Ekerot here is enough with his long black cold and his excessively white face. Almost all the hard work seems to be done for Ekerot already but that's not to say that Ekerot simply acts a prop. Ekerot's work here is interesting in that he actually kinda plays death in a somewhat comedic way actually. Although his death does act as a villain in the way he appears suddenly reek terror on his eventual victims as well as does really scheme against the Knight during the reprieves of their chess game.

Ekerot is appropriately chilling in his ice cold delivery and his equally chilly expressions that seem lifeless even when he smiles. Ekerot has more fun in the role than you might expect going in to watch the film for the first time. Ekerot in a way treats death as though he is just playing a round of a game he's done so many times so why not have a little fun with it. Ekerot actually plays death as a bit of an easygoing sort who is in no rush about anything since he knows how everything will turn out. This is particularly well seen in a scene where death is sawing a tree away to kill a man whose time is up. Ekerot goes about the task like a lumberjack would and when the man protests Ekerot is quite memorable by playing the scene like he is a technician just informing the man that the job will soon be done. Ekerot in a way makes death inevitable simply because he treats the situation in such a straight forward fashion.

Ekerot's performance is of course a constant throughout the film as there would be no reason for death to change his method and manner at anytime. He's a constant that death should be in the film as he creates the sense that there truly is no escape for the Knight and the game is merely extending his time that is all. Although Ekerot definitely contributes with his performance I would say the most effective moments involving the character are due to Bergman's direction such as found in his sudden appearances and just the doom he represents when he is seen from a distance such as in that final dance at the end of the film. Ekerot does serve a much needed purpose though through his performance. The mystery and terror of sorts represented by death is not lost when we do see him talk and Ekerot most importantly keeps death just as he should be even when we technically get to know him.
Gunnar Björnstrand did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Jöns the squire in The Seventh Seal.

Gunnar Björnstrand plays the squire to Max von Sydow's knight and acts his sidekick through the film. Although he's the squire though Jöns is much more the man of action throughout the story because the Knight is caught in his thoughts about life and death during the game. Björnstrand plays his role in a very lively fashion and almost as the comic relief early in the film. Björnstrand treads a fine line here, but his manner here importantly makes Jöns stand out very nicely against von Sydow's more internalized style of performance. Björnstrand is great at being a man of the present life while the Knight is preoccupied with the after life. Björnstrand interestingly makes the early comic moments involving his character seem wholly natural to the feel of the film. It's rather remarkable in that Björnstrand makes the humor in the squire that of a man who seems to understand the world they live in better than any other man that is seen throughout the film.

Björnstrand is brilliant in making the squire a truly worldly man and is almost comforting because the way Björnstrand makes this understanding of the world so strong in Jöns. Björnstrand is striking in his scenes where the squire makes his own philosophy regarding such things as a possible afterlife known. Björnstrand is terrific in these moments by being so wonderfully blunt about it. Where von Sydow presents the Knight's mind as being constantly troubled by these thoughts, Björnstrand cuts through this effectively by showing that Jöns is a man much more comfortable with life as a whole because he is merely able to accept his own sort of faith his own way. There is nothing that weighs on his mind and Björnstrand exudes a certain type of confidence in the squire's demeanor. It is not the confidence of religious man who is constantly a praying as such, but rather the confidence of a man due to being more preoccupied with his current existence he is far more able to simply accept what comes afterwards.

While the Knight is stuck with his game of death being rather inactive in his current life Jöns takes several actions during the course of the story in order to help others. It is a strange thing perhaps to say about this film about existential angst set during the black plague, but I have to say that Björnstrand can be described as "cool" in the role. Björnstrand is great in the scenes where the squire goes about rescuing and helping a few people along the way. He technically might as well be the knight as Björnstrand is the one to portray the true idea of chivalry. What I love about Björnstrand again though is that he once again keep Björnstrand very much down to earth and to the point even when he commits the heroic deeds. He's especially good in the scene where he saves one of the actors from further harassment by thugs in a bar. Björnstrand exudes such a command in the scene as he deals with the men and really you could almost see the squire was the one who perhaps has kept the Knight alive as along as he has, which creates perhaps an irony since it appears by the end that the Knight may be the one causing Jöns's death.

Björnstrand is outstanding by bringing the understanding of the present world through his depiction of Jöns. There's a great moment where he prevents water from being given to a man dying from the plague. Björnstrand does not portray any cruelty in this but rather the needed wisdom of a man who knows how to best survive in the place that he lives in. It's interesting to look at Ekerot's and Björnstrand's performances together since death is obviously the man fit for the other side while Jön is the most adapted to the side he is on. Also Ekerot's performance perhaps benefits the most from the atmosphere created by Bergman whereas Björnstrand's work often stands out on his own. Their meeting together, where you see from Death's view, Björnstrand has one last great moment in the film. Björnstrand presents the fear certainly as the squire sees his end right in front of him, but a man who has adapted so well to the cruel world he lives, Björnstrand powerfully portrays as being able to still stare directly at death even daring to voice his protest. Björnstrand gives a great performance that stands well within the world created by Bergman. He as well though makes Jöns compelling on his own and Björnstrand makes him so much more than just one of the men in the following death at the end.

14 comments:

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

SO glad you loved Bjornstrand.

luke higham said...

Louis: Your rating & thoughts on Sydow.

luke higham said...

Louis: I'm glad your getting '37 finished as well before 2014.

luke higham said...

Also, comparing both reviews, I think Lancaster will win.

John Smith said...

Toughts on the film itself Louis

GM said...

Louis: Your rating/thoughts on Bibi Andersson.

Anonymous said...

Louis what would be your top 10 films of 1957?

luke higham said...

Louis: For awhile, I've been forgetting about this, but what are your top ten films of 2006.

Anonymous said...

Louis what are your top 5s for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress 1957? With thoughts and ratings on the ones you haven't done already. Also, what are the worst performances of 2014 for you?

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

Sydow - 4(Sydow's performance here is very much low key since Sydow performance is basically a man going through the phases of facing death. He begins confidant and defiant trying thinking he can outsmart him, then moves slowly into fears and questions of what will come, than at the end wonderfully has a final acceptance)

1. Children of Men
2. The Prestige
3. Casino Royale
4. The Lives of Others
5. Letters From Iwo Jima
6. The Departed
7. The Painted Veil
8. A Scanner Darkly
9. Inside Man
10. Thank You For Smoking

John Smith:

It's a great film as Bergman creates such an atmosphere of dread giving the sense of the doom the plague even though you only see a few results of it. What is most fascinating about it though is the dark humor that is pervasive throughout yet never compromises the tone of the film. Bergman creates the sense of despair in palatable through death yet so wonderfully does leave just a bit of hope that remains at the end.

Gm:

Andersson - 3.5(A simple but luminous bit of work from her. She's just needs to be a life worth saving and she fulfills this need quite beautifully)

Anonymous:

1. The Bridge on the River Kwai
2. Paths of Glory
3. Throne of Blood
4. The Seventh Seal
5. Witness for the Prosecution
6. Sweet Smell of Success
7. 12 Angry Men
8. 3:10 to Yuma
9. A Face in the Crowd
10. The Lower Depths

luke higham said...

Louis: From now on, do you not mind giving your ratings & thoughts on casts for new releases in advance, instead of having to ask you repeatedly.

Louis Morgan said...

Best Actress:

1. Joanne Woodward - 5(Although the film makes some serious missteps, such as the silly music used in the transformation scenes, I loved Woodward's performance. She realizes each personality wonderfully. From the quiet housewife who can barely even speak at all, to the alluring lustful woman who comes on to every man she meets, and the gentle more rounded woman still troubled by the personalities)

2. Anna Magnani - 4.5(Magnani does not have any chemistry with Anthony badactor (that should be his last name), but she has a very interesting great chemistry with Quinn, which shows the film probably should just have been rewritten. Magnani though gives a fiery passionate performance in an interesting way as she beautifully internalizes it)

3. Patricia Neal - 4.5(Neal is splendid here in giving her own remarkable transformation through the film. She begins as the charming radio host but effectively moves to the harried producer then finally the completely spent woman forced to witness the monster she created. She gives great work and I have to say she kinda consistently overshadowed Griffith in the film)

4. Marlene Dietrich - Witness For the Prosecution

5. Audrey Hepburn - Love in the Afternoon - 3.5(She can't strike up the needed chemistry with the painfully miscast Gary Cooper, but I still found her charming here, as usual I must admit)

Best Supporting Actress:

1. Isuzu Yamada - Throne of Blood

2. Isuzu Yamada - The Lower Depths - 4.5(Brava to Yamada as she plays a very similar role to Lady Macbeth but plays the role completely differently. She plays into the idea of the difference between the manipulator in the throws of power against the poor one. She effectively is manipulative as she should be but completely different ways. It's a rather fascinating twin set of performances from her)

3. Hope Lange - Peyton Place

4. Carolyn Jones - The Bachelor Party

5. Elsa Lanchester - Witness For the Prosecution

Louis Morgan said...

Worst Performances:

Karen Gillan - Guardians of the Galaxy

The youngins - Expendables 3

Sylvester Stallone - Expendables 3

Jennifer Garner - Men, Women and Children

Marco Perella - Boyhood

Luke:

Sure no problem.

luke higham said...

Louis: Thanks, also if you ever happen to see The ASM2, Foxx and Csokas, could very well give Perella a run for his money.