Art house titan Max Von Sydow turns 82 today. During the art house explosion in America in the 50’s and 60’s, Von Sydow became a memorable face for fans of foreign cinema. Later in his career after more than two decades working with longtime collaborator Ingmar Bergman, Von Sydow made the jump across the pond to the United States. It was here that he’s forged his mid-to-late career, often appearing as science fiction or horror villains. The man simply does not give a bad performance, regardless of what type of costume he’s wearing; the genre he’s performing in; or what language he’s required to speak. Without the Bergman era, though, his career might have stalled in Swedish theaters. And so on his birthday today, let’s honor Von Sydow’s Bergman era films. Here are five powerful Von Sydow roles in Ingmar Bergman films.
1. Andreas Winkelman, The Passion of Anna (1969)
Though the film revolves around several sexually mismatched characters, Von Sydow’s turn as the grief-stricken Andreas is the glue that holds the film together. Without Von Sydow’s superb performance of Andreas’ wild character arc, the interlocking stories would have crumbled and burned.
2. Albert Vogler, The Magician (1958)
The role of Vogler required a special brand of mysteriousness, silence, and creepiness. Von Sydow delivered it with aplomb, bringing to life the powerful juxtaposition between Vogler’s supernatural highjinx and the cold, calculated rationality of Dr. Vergerus (Gunnar Björnstrand).
3. Johan Borg, Hour of the Wolf (1968)
Von Sydow had a bit of an impossible task here- he had to channel Ingmar Bergman, the artist, and fight all of Bergman’s demons. Getting sucked into another person’s life and battling all of their demons may sound like the premise for a video game, but it was the premise for an underappreciated masterpiece in 1968. The character arc: new island resident; then plagued by his own various issues; finally ends up psychologically self-tortured and in drag, ultimately missing in action from his wife. It’s as close to horror as Bergman ever came and Von Sydow’s performance made it happen.
4. Töre, The Virgin Spring (1960)
What would a father do when presented with the chance to exact revenge upon the people who raped and murdered his virginal daughter? Von Sydow effectively displayed first a deep love of his teenage daughter, and then the fierce rage upon avenging the awful deeds that befell her.
5. Antonius Block, The Seventh Seal (1957)
This is the film that launched Von Sydow to international fame, and with good reason. The depth of emotion and theological self-searching provided as Antonius Block is one of my favorite performances in any film ever made. It’s an enduring role that’s accompanied by numerous legendary images (see the article header for just one of them, minus the birthday festive attire).