Under the Influence

Margarethe von Trotta Found Her Cinema Gateway in The Seventh Seal

On Film / Features — Nov 19, 2018


The first art film that Margarethe von Trotta ever saw is one that changed her life. In the early 1960s, years before she became an acclaimed director and a leading figure in the New German Cinema movement, von Trotta went to Paris to study languages. And it was there that she first found cinema, when a group of French students took her to a screening of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. Arriving in theaters more than half a century after that unforgettable viewing, her latest film, the intimate and perceptive documentary Searching for Ingmar Bergman, is a testament to how lasting an inspiration the Swedish master became for her.

For von Trotta, The Seventh Seal was nothing less than “a revelation,” she says in the latest episode of Under the Influence, our ongoing series in which we ask filmmakers to speak about the movies from the collection that have been most formative for them. As it happens, Bergman’s richly symbolic, visually stunning medieval parable is what first spurred von Trotta to pursue a career as an actor and director: by the end of the sixties, she had begun appearing on-screen in films by Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Volker Schlöndorff (whom she married in 1971), before breaking into the male-dominated world behind the camera the following decade. In the video above, she talks about all the ways in which The Seventh Seal showed her the power of cinema, from its resonances with the apocalyptic fears of the 1950s and ’60s, to her love for star Max von Sydow, to her later appreciation for the composition of the images. And von Trotta, who eventually came to know Bergman, also describes how one of her films—Marianne and Juliane (1981), an award-winning drama of siblinghood and politics—wound up becoming a part of his own personal pantheon.