After millennia of separation, Lucifer invites Michael to a seemingly innocent game of chess in Piotr Szkopiak’s short drama Two Knights.
In 1957 Ingmar Bergman created one of the most critically acclaimed and memorable films that cinema has ever produced. In doing so, he also gave us one of the most iconic scenes of all time. Even if you have never seen The Seventh Seal, the image of Max Von Sydow playing chess with Death is burned into our minds. Many of Bergman’s dramatic films are about his discontent with the ways God has chosen to reveal himself or not, but when he made The Seventh Seal he decided to tackle his subject head-on and Piotr Szokopiak does much the same with his 16-minute short film Two Knights.
These days films are no longer concerned with the silence of God but with the behaviours of men and generally, we become uneasy when people ask metaphorical questions, even Bergman became more restrained after his masterpiece, using much more manageable ways to ask the same questions. Yet the directness of Two Knights is its strength – an uncompromising film that regards good and evil with the same simplicity and faith that real people do. The writing from our two stars Adrian Darko and Reece J. Morant, with help from Tommaso Genovesi, asks again and again, why does God seem to be absent from the world?
Opening with a sunrise, Two Knights is a deeply personal meditation that sees Archangel Michael (played by Reece J Morant) travel a great distance across limbo to visit his former colleague Lucifer (Adrian Darko) in what seems to be an abandoned oil rig. The location stands out for me and, although I believe it to be CGI, the VFX by Sara Buxton looks so realistic that the rig could quite easily be an actual location. The scriptures tell us that Lucifer was once one of God’s most trusted angels but because he wasn’t happy being an assistant to God he attempted a heavenly coup, only to end up banished from heaven. Michael visits him after centuries apart and Lucifer challenges him to a game of chess. Throughout the game Lucifer needles Michael, asking him questions to test his faith. Things like what good has come from God creating man? And what does he make of seeing innocent people affected by crimes wars and illness? A loyal subject of God, Michael remains defiant, firing back his answers with clarity and power.
The cinematography by Robert Ford is excellent with some particularly good framing, there are many mid shots and establishing shots that see characters looking wistfully across great distances, empty plains, and rough seas. Some of the shot choices are clever like, for example, the mid-shot on Michael where he is engulfed by sunlight from a window or the two-shot of the former friends looking across the ocean from the top of the platform. The pick of the bunch though is a birds-eye reverse zoom of the top of the rig that emphasises the size and remoteness of the location. The internal shots, thanks to the brilliant production design by Sasha Stamp, give Lucifer’s home a genuine “lived-in look”, with the colour scheme of greys, greens, and browns adding to the definite feeling of history in the rooms we visit.
More than just a short, Szkopiak’s Two Knights is a complex work that gives us moments to ponder our true sense of being in the world and what faith means to us. It provides us with a range of human emotions with only a couple of actors, who lead us in no particular direction. Two Knights allows us to question the true meaning of God’s place in the modern world.