Directors loved him, of course. His legendary collaboration with Ingmar Bergman seems impossible now. How could two artists work together so diligently and beautifully over the years to bring such dark and troubled stories to life? Max von Sydow was drawn to the “dark and troubled stories” early in his career, and then he branched out over the decades to meet new challenges: comedy, science fiction, horror, Game of Thrones. He could probably have done anything, but whatever he did, his was a serious and lifelong commitment to make it real and to “do the work.”

One such “dark and troubled story,” Emotional Arithmetic, brought him together with Gabriel Byrne to open the book on an experience of the Holocaust. Their scenes achieved a kind of lyrical poetry, Wordsworth’s “emotion recollected in tranquility.” Intense, but distant now. Pain distilled to love and affection by time. It’s a small film, not remembered by many, but so touching and affecting. I’ll always remember Jakob and Christopher, talking by the lake, remembering the past, hoping for the future. And Jakob admits to him:

I should not have said “Remember.” I should have said “Live.”

We will always remember Max von Sydow, for this role and for all the roles he brought to us with his impeccable skill, unswerving commitment to his craft, and his warmth and grace that only grew with time.

Rest in Peace, Max von Sydow. heart

The Guardian Obituary for Max Von Sydow

Speaking to the Guardian, Martin Scorsese – who directed him in 2011’s Shutter Island – called Von Sydow “something like a consummate actor, with a pride in his art and a dedication to his craft that I’ve encountered in very few people in my life.”

He continued: “I had the chance to work with him only once and I cherished every minute of it. On the set he was remarkable, and off the set he a complete gentleman.

“What he and Ingmar Bergman found together is more precious than gold. Tonight I’ll watch one of those pictures—maybe Shame, or Hour of the Wolf, or Winter Light, or The Seventh Seal—and find myself shocked, surprised and awed all over again.”

Thomas Vinterberg, who directed von Sydow in his final film, Kursk (2018), told the Guardian that “for us Scandinavians Max is a legend”.

He recalled Von Sydow’s final day of shooting, when, “after his last shot, everyone stood up and applauded this warm and impressive man, continuously. When he left the set, it continued in the street.

“It was as if he was celebrated for his whole career, and it just went on and on. Both [co-star] Colin Firth and I were very moved by this, and it became the last time I saw him. It’s as if an era ends with Max. I will miss him.”

Max von Sydow: an aristocrat of cinema who made me weep
A brief but very effective look at Max von Sydow’s career, by Peter Bradshaw

For my money, the greatest of Von Sydow’s later roles, and one of his greatest ever screen performances, was in Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007). He plays Papinou, a grumpy invalid who irascibly submits to the indignity of being shaved by his middle-aged son – the fashionable magazine editor and man-about-town played by Mathieu Amalric. But then his son suffers a catastrophic stroke and is paralysed by “locked-in syndrome”.

The scene in which Von Sydow sobs with grief for his stricken son is a scene that Van Gogh could have pictured. I think it is the only time that I have twitched my glasses off and sobbed, really sobbed, in the cinema. And now I have to admit to being emotional at today’s news about Max von Sydow’s death. An aristocrat of cinema has gone.

3 Comments

  1. Oh Stella, you bring tears to my eyes with these quotes. Max von Sydow was such a great talent. May he rest in peace. A commanding , yet quiet presence. Emotional Arithmetic is such a quietly powerful film.

    • People really love him. And they are right: there will be no more like him.

      I’ve been watching Max von Sydow on screen since I was 13 years old. That’s more than 50 years. He never fails to mesmerize me. His performances in popular films make me pay more attention and his work in serious drama is always riveting for me (and others, too, I know!). I am feeling quite bereft at losing him. And now when I watch Emotional Arithmetic, I will be even more emotional! WAH! This is a profound loss. I will always miss Max. <3

  2. I only ever saw The Emigrants once. Years ago when BBC2 used to show ‘foreign’ language films Saturday nights.
    It gripped me.
    I’ve always intended to get a look at it again…
    Max von Sydow: The long shadow of a great actor.
    https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/03/19/sydo-m19.html

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