4 Pure cinemalascenara17 | 14/11/2008 | See all lascenara17's reviews (97)Bergman's most iconic work, this film also gave the most memorable image of Death in the history of cinema.The film has a mythic quality about it. It totally believes in its Medieval setting and it's impossible not to be convinced, it's black and white images evoking the atmosphere of Eisenstein's 'Alexander Nevsky'. In this film Bergman begins his exploration of the psychological and physical relationship humans have with God, something that would obsessively invade his work from now on. That he deposits his personality into two main characters, Antonius Block and his squire Jons, tends to offset the Medieval diagesis by introducing an existential theme that wouldn't have been cultivated in human history until, say, 1956. The musings and broodings about God, in such frank dialogue, is again a rough spot that Bergman would refine into more subtle and less obvious examination in later films, relying more on his trademark intense imagery rather than on spoken word.Apart from this, the film is a masterpiece. With a sweeping scope, embodied in the iconic chess game between Antonius and Death, and with a gentle humour to counter the pessmistic tone, Bergman fully deserved the attention this film gave him.Performances are good, notably von Sydow as Antonius, both warm and cold, and Bengt Ekerot as Death himself, providing subtle shades to a usually one-dimensional role in cinema; who would have thought seeing Death smile would be so startling, even if he's gloating about taking the life of sleazy actor Janus.The photography is also outstanding, Gunnar Fischer capturing both buttery sunlight and bleak cloudiness, culminating in the improvised 'dance of death' scene that richly evokes Medieval tableaux.It's not Bergman's best, but it's certainly one of his best, and one of the most influential films in cinema history, predating the European and American New Waves to create new meaning for people to interpret on th silver screen.